Mt Royal NP for Field Day and SOTA 19-20 Mar 2016

A triple-header for the weekend with the John Moyle Memorial Field Day contest, WWFF at Mt Royal National Park VKFF-0362 and SOTA from two summits within the park.

VK2/HU-024 810m 4pts QF57PS in Mt Royal NP VKFF-0362

Headed first to the VK2/HU-024 summit which is just outside the southern edge of the park by a matter of metres. The activation zone to the NE is well within the park and happens to lie along Mt Royal Rd and conveniently there is a cleared space to the side of the road suitable for camping and operating from. Note that not all maps show the correct location of the park boundary or of Mt Royal Rd near the summit. SIX maps and the OzTopo GPS map V7 are OK. I activated from (-32.24473,151.28366) marked on the map with a red “X”. The park boundary and the location of the summit are also shown. There would be an elevation difference of a few metres at most between the summit and the activated location.160319VK2HU-024map

The John Moyle is a 24 hour contest starting at 0100z (noon). I arrived at about 12:45pm and walked around the area with my GPS to find the summit and check for the exact park boundary. Once confirmed I started setting up. Weather was warm with clear blue skies and no wind so a perfect day to be out and activating. A 3m metal pole at the side of the road provided a perfect mount for lashing my squid pole. I was able to raise up the base of my squid pole by 1.5m to increase the effective height of the antenna. First contact in the log was at 1:12pm, a S2S with Tony VK1VIC at Mt Ginini. Normally I use a paper log but for contests I just about always use a computer, and so it was for this contest. Well over an hour was spent working through the stations on 40m SSB and then there was a spell on CW. 40 minutes there netted 9 contacts so the pace was leisurely. I used my KX3 and had it wound up to the full 15W output. Antenna was the usual ZS6BKW inverted-Vee with the apex at nearly 10m off the ground and oriented NW-SE. To obtain this orientation, the antenna crossed the road, but with the lowest point being at about 8m it wasn’t going to be a traffic hazard!

A new three hour block had started so I could rework stations again so back to 40m SSB starting out with 3 S2S contacts. Then hunting and pecking through all the stations calling CQ for half an hour then started calling on my own frequency. The band was pretty crowded but there were still slots available. This kept me busy for another half an hour before it was time to give 20m a go. It was pretty quiet on there with only 2 stations calling from VK6. Maybe I had missed all the action. So back to 40m with the odd listen on 80m. A car full of locals stopped for a chat and find out what I was up to. The road does not go through anywhere so there was less than one car per hour going past. I mentioned my intention to scale Mt Royal and was warned about the presence of tiger snakes.

Nearing 7pm I decided to have a break from contesting and set up the tent. This was pitched next to the metal pole as the amount of free antenna feedline was limited. My operating chair was moved inside the tent and used as an operating table. After a 40 minute break I was making contacts again – still on 40m SSB. After less than 15 minutes I switched to 80m SSB where there was a lot more action. I was able to work stations in VK1, VK2, VK3 and VK4 mainly by calling CQ.

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Antenna at VK2/HU-024

Operating from inside the tent was very nice as it kept off the cool breeze, and it really did cool down quite a lot after sunset. The evening was spent operating on 80m and 40m. There was a dearth of stations on CW, just weak rapid fire stations operating in another contest. I was surprised at the lack of activity. I was keen to make a 6m contact as there had been no response to earlier calls. I made a contact with the Blue Mountains radio club station VK2HZ on 80m and asked them to try 6m. They said their 6m operators were in bed – it was only 10:15pm. Still, they were happy to try for a contact on their wire antenna. Unfortunately it was a no-go as they were only just audible to me and I had a fraction of their transmitter power. it would have to be left until morning.

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Night time shack at VK2/HU-024

There were still plenty of stations about on 80m and a few on 40m so I kept going. Conscious of my plans for Sunday I decided to turn in at 12:45am when things became a bit quiet on the bands. It was now just CQ callers that I had worked before so a good time to cut it short. I would need all my strength and alertness for Mt Royal!

In the morning I awoke to find it already quite light. My beanie had slipped over my eyes and kept things dark and the lack of light had allowed me to sleep more than expected. It was after 7am and weather was still nice, though overcast and a little crisp. I was back on the radio at 7:45am for a short stint until 8:30am. I was able to find VK2HZ again on 80m and arrange for a 6m contact with their VHF team. This time it was successful over a distance of 183km as they were using a beam rather than a wire antenna. I also was able to just hear a station in Bathurst, but they weren’t able to hear me. The other contacts I made in the morning were on 40m and I found 80m full of ragchewers and nets.

Mt Royal VK2/HU-007 1174m 6pts QF57PT in Mt Royal NP VKFF-0362

Packing up the camp site, shack and antenna occupied an hour and then it was off to the next summit. Driving up Mt Royal road one passes through the Youngville campground area after 5km at (-32.1995,151.3094). It would make a good base if one wanted to stay a few days and operate from the park. Continuing on 3km one reaches a Y intersection with a picnic area directly ahead at (-32.1823,151.3156). At 850m elevation this is the starting point for the walk to Mt Royal VK2/HU-007. A single sheltered picnic table and a park sign marks this location.

The walk starts immediately behind the picnic table and follows the ridge line all the way to the top. There is not just one clearly defined track but a series of parallel tracks that weave in and out from each other. The gradient is steep most of the way, around 2 in 5 so it is not for the faint hearted or infirm. The elevation is 320m over 2km so its a good idea to take breaks along the way. I did not need to climb very far before entering low cloud though the visibility was still fine for following the trail. There are various rock piles along the way providing reassurance that you’re on the right track. Just after half way up there is a rocky outcrop and while it would appear attractive to skirt around it, the best way is to scramble up over it. Further up after an open area one comes to a wall of foliage with seemingly no way to get through. There is a track on the right side to duck and weave around the trees which seemed to be the best approach. I only discovered this on the way back!

The rest of the way up has quite a dense wooden canopy with some sections having very little headroom. Near the top there is a faux summit that one can skirt around to the left. One must keep going past here another few hundred metres to reach the destination. The summit holds a trig station with Royal stamped in the vane and is covered with tall spindly trees. The tracks around the trig point are quite well trodden probably due to the presence of a geocache nearby. On the trig point cairn there is a log book with a large rock sitting on it providing little in the way of disguise.

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Station at Mt Royal VK2/HU-007

The tree cover near the trig point is quite low so rather than set up on the trig point itself, I set up my squid pole attached to a tree nearby. The antenna wire was woven around some trees and branches and with the dropoff the ends of the antenna were only about 2m off the ground. The usual ZS6BKW was used on the 8m squid pole with the antenna apex at about 7m off the deck. It had taken 1.5 hours to reach the summit and set up so there was still half an hour left until the close of the John Moyle contest at 12 noon. Again I concentrated on 40m SSB and in the time available I was able to snag 8 more contacts. At that point the computer log was closed off and I reverted to the paper log.

At contest end I was able to start spotting on SOTAwatch and the first was for 40m CW. Conditions were certainly poor as there were only 2 contacts. After 3 summit-to-summits on SSB I went to 30m CW and made 2 more contacts, one of those being a S2S with Ron VK3AFW. Then I went through 20m CW with no contacts then chased JL1NIE unsuccessfully on 15m CW. On 20m SSB I did make four contacts. There was a successful S2S with JF1NDT/1 on 12m CW then on 15m SSB one contact with a JA and nothing on 30m SSB. Finally I ended up on 40m SSB for a bunch of contacts including two CW contacts on 7090, one a S2S with Tony VK3CAT.

160320VK2HU-007shack

Shack at Mt Royal with PC for contest logging

Once the callers ran out I stayed around for a bit on the summit before packing up and departing about 3pm. Mobile coverage on the summit was pretty good on the Telstra network though there were dropouts. For example, I missed a spot from VK2QR by 15 mins and so did not get the S2S. The signal was up to 3 bars on the phone if positioned in a certain spot, but at other times there was no data. Sitting it just off the ground the signal was coming and going.

160320VK2HU-007viewW

View looking west just down from the Mt Royal summit

The return journey was a lot quicker than the climb as the better tracks to take were more obvious and there was a lot less huffing and puffing. I did not need to descend very far before the cloud cleared allowing some visibility of the valleys below. It would certainly be a spectacular spot on a clear day.

Highlights

  • 2 SOTA summits and 1 park qualified
  • 242 contacts including 20 CW contacts
  • 21 park-to-park contacts
  • 15 summit-to-summit contacts
  • no tiger snakes!

 

Mt Solitary activation 30 Dec 2015

The SOTA peak at Mt Solitary VK2/CT-056 in the Blue Mountains National Park VKFF-0041 had been on my to-do list most of 2015. I’d resolved not to attempt it in winter to ensure adequate daylight and to make it a comfortable climb. Last time (and first time) I did this walk I ended up having to walk back in the dark which was “different” but not as much fun. I’d hoped to tackle this one with Phil VK2JDL, but as it turned out he was busy on the last possible day of the year it could be done.

151230MtSolitaryMap

Walking path to Mt Solitary starting at the Golden Staircase

The starting point for the walk is at the top of the Golden Staircase (-33.734348, 150.28237) at elevation 958m which can be found on Glen Raphael Drive along Narrow Neck just west of Katoomba. Descend the Golden Staircase (about 800m) passing Botleys Lookout until the Federal Pass circuit track is reached. Turn right (south) and gently descend by 300m elevation reaching the 4.3km mark. From then on it is an ascent of 300m over 1.8km including a lot of hard climbing and scrambling to reach the summit (-33.7797, 150.3079) QF56DF at elevation 960m. I budgeted two to two and a half hours to do the 6.1km walk, but walking quickly without stopping to take any photos it took one and a half hours. The National Parks site provides all route details and it is also well covered on Wild Walks. The alternative and longer route is to start at Scenic World, descend the Furber Steps and join the Federal Pass circuit there. It adds another 3 km onto the trip. Some of that can be saved by descending using the Scenic Railway instead of the Furber Steps. Details of this alternative can also be found on Wild Walks.

151230MtSolitaryProfile

Elevation profile from Golden Staircase (958m) to Mt Solitary (960m) with minimum elevation of 658m

The summit itself is quite a flat area covered with tall trees. This gives a large activation zone and there are plenty of places to put up an antenna. The main consideration is making sure it is clear overhead so that the antenna wire is not obstructed. I found a convenient stump to use as a support for the squid pole. Knowing the difficulty of the walk, I brought along a lightweight 8m pole and removed all extraneous items from my backpack. The pole was able to be inserted into a pocket on the backpack so I had both hands free – and this turned out to be essential during the climb. Conveniently, I had arrived and set up 15 minutes before UTC rollover whereas my alert was for thirty minutes past. There were SOTA stations already active so plenty of scope for summit-to-summit contacts.

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The first object was to work all the activators and I managed four before rollover – all on 40m. Then after rollover hunted for the same activators again. I was calling VK3HRA on his spotted frequency 7032 CW when Nick VK2AOH called me. Somehow I had missed Allen. A whole bunch of activators were spotting on 10m so I went there to look for them. I did manage one S2S with Andrew VK1AD at Mt Taylor in Canberra. All the other summits were too far for ground wave and too close for sky wave. Then I put my first spot up on 10m SSB and that attracted a couple of contacts in VK5, one in VK4 and one in Sydney from VK2BEN. After an hour on 10m I spotted on 6m SSB and attracted 2 stations from Sydney – Cliff VK2NP and VK2BEN again. I had heard Andrew VK1AD work a VK4 at good strength on 6m but Andrew’s signal faded quickly. Unfortunately I was not able to work the VK4. During some free time I put up a “selfie” of my activation on social media. This attracted a certain amount of attention and comment and made for a talking point during contacts. At some stage I’d like to try sending pictures via SSTV from the summit as thus far I’ve only received SSTV from summits in the shack.

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Shack and operator on Mt Solitary

After 20 minutes a spot came up on 40m so I abandoned 6m and chased a bunch of activators (VK3MCD, VK2QR, VK1VIC, VK3VTH). I spotted on 10m SSB again and started calling then a spot came up for Greg VK2GSB at VK2/HU-094 who was doing his first activation near Port Stephens in Myall Lakes NP. I was the first contact in his log and it must have been a surprise as it was a summit-to-summit as well as a park-to-park contact.

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Back on 10m I made a bunch more contacts over the next hour with the occasional excursion to other bands to work other summit stations. 10m was in good shape as I was able to make contact with chasers in Melbourne at good strength. This represented quite short skip conditions on this band. Next was a go at 10m CW and this was rewarded with 3 contacts from Melbourne stations with excellent reports.

After half an hour on 10m CW it was late enough to give 40m CW a try too and five contacts were made. Then I moved to 40m SSB and filled a page full of contacts over the next hour. This included two S2S contacts. The sun had moved around and now my spot under the trees was in full sun so the shack was relocated a few metres for complete shade.

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With one hour to go to my planned departure time of 6pm I went back to 10m SSB and started calling there. One contact was made with VK2FJPR in Newcastle who I had worked on 40m and mentioned a possibility of 10m. He was pretty surprised to be able to make a contact and we exchanged 5×3 reports both ways. The good propagation to Melbourne had gone and no other 10m contacts were made. I contacted Rod VK2TWR to try for a 6m contact, but he wasn’t able to hear me so we made it on 40m instead.

A spot by Lewis VK6FLEW on 40m attracted a QSY, but Lewis was operating on 7.144 and the afternoon net on 7.146 prevented any copy. It was then time to close down after operating for 7 hours. My 4200 mAh battery was just about exhausted and the KX3 kept switching off. It was a longer activation than expected and I was restless to complete the return journey. Last time I had done it mostly in the dark and had not planned to do that again this time, after all I had photos to take! One of the concessions when reducing weight was to eliminate cameras from my backpack. The DSLR weighs around 3kg and had to go. I even rejected the compact camera with the intention of relying on the rarely used mobile phone camera. That’s the mark of a lightweight activation!

151230MtSolitaryCampsite

One of the many camp sites along the Federal Pass

My Android-based mobile phone has an aftermarket high capacity battery, but before I started the return walk it was down to around 30% capacity. During the day I was running RRT, ParksnPeaks and Port-a-Log apps at various times, and usually multiple simultaneously. This no doubt would have required additional internet traffic (and therefore battery consumption). Luckily mobile phone coverage was good with few dropouts. For the first time on an activation I had used RunKeeper to record my progress on the walk so the GPS was running during this time. On the return walk I also used RunKeeper and so was able to obtain an elevation profile for the day’s outing.

151230MtSolitary3Sisters

Glimpse of the Three Sisters through the trees

The return walk was a lot more difficult than the morning walk even though I had had plenty of recovery time. I doubt the endorphins were flowing like they are when you’re striving to reach a summit. Luckily I had plenty of rests to take photos. Descending from Mt Solitary I ran into some people who were about to launch a toy drone. As I continued further the drone appeared in the skies above along with the characteristic buzz. It seemed to follow me for quite a way and my thoughts were that the country was quite inhospitable in the event that a drone recovery was required, though it seems that was not necessary. I had bypassed the sidetrip to the “Ruined Castle” on the way in and did the same on the way out. Its another steep climb and would add time to the trip.

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The most difficult part of the trip was the return climb up The Golden Staircase. The track is well formed unlike the last section up Mt Solitary, but it is so steep with metal railings and for such a long distance that it is pretty difficult at the end of a long day with not much left in the tank. There are some nice glimpses of the Three Sisters along the way, especially from Botleys Lookout near the top.

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I arrived back at the carpark just as the sun was setting so timing was perfect. After taking time to watch the sun go down, take photos and rehydrate, I did some chasing for the EU activators. Even on CW it was not possible to work any of them due to low signal strength so after half an hour I was on my way.

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Greeted by a stunning sunset climbing to the top of the Golden Staircase

Highlights

  • Making it to (and from) the summit
  • Stunning views of the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters
  • Fabulous sunny weather all day with light breezes
  • 67 contacts on 40m, 30m, 10m, 6m including 9 CW  on 40m, 10m
  • 17 summit-to-summits
  • 13 park-to-parks
  • First documented activation of this summit
  • 18 contacts on 10m/6m including JA DX

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 transceiver
  • One LiFePO4 4200 mAh battery
  • uniHAM UNI-730A CW paddle
  • ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet (28m long)
  • 8m lightweight mast
  • Earbuds stereo headphone

Log

Many thanks to the following stations for making contact:
VK3HRA/P VK1VIC/2 VK1AD/P VK3PF/P VK2YK VK1VIC/2 VK3PF/P VK1AD/P VK4RF VK4HA VK1DI/P VK2AOH VK1AD/P VK5WG VK4MNM VK5NRG VK2BEN VK2NP VK2BEN VK3MCD/2 VK2QR/P VK1VIC/2 VK3VTH/5 VK2GSB/P JH7RTQ VK7CW JL1RUC VK7FRKL VK1MA/3 VK3PF/P VK3YUN VK3HRA/P VK3ZPF VK3CAT VK3AFW VK3ANL VK2AOH VK1EM VK3PF/M VK3BYD VK1CT VK3UH VK1AT VK3FQSO VK3YAR VK3ES VK3NBL VK3LED VK2PHA VK1DW VK3AWG VK3AV VK2NN VK3CRG VK2YK VK3ARR/P VK2VW VK2GAZ VK3DAC VK2ZZM VK2FJPR VK2JDC VK2YW VK3HRA/P VK3PMG VK2FJPR VK2TWR

Leg recovery after the walk took a few days.
Will I activate this one again?
You betcha!

Mt Marulan and Towrang Range 9 Aug 2015

The last Sunday before the end of the first 10m/6m challenge period provided a good opportunity to head for the hills and activate, especially as VK1 operators would be out in force. The summits chosen near Goulburn are around 100km from Canberra so well within RF range. It was an early start to get to the first one well before UTC rollover.

Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 868m 4pts QF45XF

Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 trig point and operating position

Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 trig point and operating position

Mt Marulan is not too far off the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne with the turnoff in the town of Marulan. It had been activated once before so there were no access problems foreseen. The summit is in a reserve on public land and can be accessed via a track that goes right to the top. The cairn marking the summit is literally right next to the track, however the track itself is overgrown and 4WD is recommended. There are a lot of small trees growing in the middle of the track which one must drive over with the risk of possible vehicle damage. If this is not to your liking, best way is to park at the end of Tickner Valley Rd and leg it the rest of the way. See the trip map below for the route.

Route to Mt Marulan and Towrang Range

Route to Mt Marulan and Towrang Range

Summit

Arriving at the summit I found an elevated cairn with a trig point on top. The pole forming the trig point was leaning over, but very firm and strong. It made a great support for my antenna mast, and being elevated provided an extra couple of metres over my normal antenna height. The area around is mostly clear of high trees as well so a great spot for setting up an antenna. Expecting to try for VK1 to the south, I set up my ZS6BKW antenna east-west and happily was right on schedule.

Map from SIX to help find Mt Marulan

Map from SIX to help find the way to Mt Marulan

Japan S2S

Checking SOTAwatch I noticed a spot for Takeshi JS1UEH on 15m CW so jumped to the nominated frequency. Nothing was heard for a while so I put out a call but there was no response. Another update from SOTAwatch and that showed Takeshi on 10m CW. I changed to that band and heard Takeshi putting out a call, not a strong signal but with no background noise, perfectly workable. I gave Takeshi a call and he responded giving his summit as JA/IB-003. I was very glad to make my second summit-to-summit with Takeshi and Japan. Great to have the contact on 10m too!

Shack on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 with two rigs

Shack on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 with two rigs

VK1 S2S

Shifting down 10 kHz I then worked Grant VK4JAZ who was activating Mt McDonald VK1/AC-048 with Andrew VK1NAM. Then Andrew was worked on 6m as well as Matt VK1MA, but sigs on 6m were not strong. I then spotted on 10m and started calling with 10 minutes to go before rollover. Andrew VK1NAM and Matt VK1MA came up on 10m with much stronger signals than before. In fact Andrew gave me a 5×9 and he was 100km away – I was only using 10 Watts. Then Andrew VK1DA came up on One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 for my third S2S.

Rollover

After UTC rollover, worked VK1NAM, VK1MA and VK1DA again on 10m and a new call VK1DI with good sigs too. Another VK1 did come up but I wasn’t able to work him. I shifted to 40m CW and worked 7 stations including Warren VK3BYD for a S2S that I had missed earlier with all the 10m activity.

Returned to 10m and helped Andrew VK1DA with some antenna and ATU tests. Seemed that Andrew’s ATU was dropping signal strength by 3 S points. Then it was time for breakfast – better late than never. it was also a chance to set up my other rig. I kept going with the KX3, spotting on 10m CW but got no response to a lot of calls. it was time to deploy the other rig.

Antenna on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039

Antenna on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039

QRO

The FT100D and ATU was plugged into the antenna and tuned up fine on 10m. I spotted on 10m SSB and started calling. I had a reply and a nice chat with Hiroshi JJ6VAR who seemed to be receiving me just fine. The radio was set to 100W so that certainly helped. Nick VK2AOH then came up for a S2S from Mt Banks VK2/CT-032 in the Blue Mountains. After another JA contact, I swung the antenna around to favour NA and the WA6APQ California beacon on 28.244 increased in strength. After more calling with no response Andrew VK1NAM appeared on a new summit, Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037. Grant also popped up for a CW contact from the same summit and then it was time to close down. I had overstayed by more than an hour hoping to catch these S2Ss. Bundled everything away and hit the road.

Postscript: Details on how to reach Mt Marulan summit

Since activating Mt Marulan I have had enquiries on how to get there. Its best to walk up rather than drive up the overgrown track – Phil VK2JDL reports that in Dec 2015 there are fallen trees. The track is not too steep or too far. More details:

  • Drive to the end of Tickner Valley Rd, Marulan and park
  • Go through the rusty gate at (-34.773778,149.925574) giving access to Lot 28 (525 Tickner Valley Rd)
  • Continue (west) 50m to a Y junction
  • Take the right fork and then follow the track 300m up the hill parallel to the fence (the left fork goes to a building 60m away on Lot 28)
  • At the top curve left and keep following the track 1.4km until you find the Mt Marulan cairn in a clearing

Boxers Creek

Continued along the track and found it to be longer and steeper than the incoming track though this time it was down hill. Eventually ended up in the town of Boxers Creek. Identifying the best way to the next summit was not easy. All routes seemed to discourage visitors. I’d seen a spot come up from Andrew VK1DA so drove to the highest point on the road to try and work him on 10m but no luck.

Sign to Mt Marulan on Tiyces Lane

Sign to Mt Marulan on Tiyces Lane


Towrang Range VK2/ST-052 873m 4pts QF45VF (1st activation)

Turned off the main road and followed one track which led to a dead end. Retraced my steps and tried a different track eventually ending up at a farm but couldn’t find anyone in the workshop so proceeded on. Eventually met the owner and after explaining my intention he agreed to guide me to the mountain. A tree had fallen across the track so we had to go around through the bush. Some tense moments when my car ended up right against a tree while negotiating a narrow passage. The track eventually came to an end in a clearing with plenty of space for parking. The owner departed to clear the fallen tree and I headed on foot towards the summit which was up the hill, through a gate and about 500m further on. The track is well marked.

Map from SIX to help find the way to Towrang Range

Map from SIX to help find the way to Towrang Range

Summit

The summit has a flat area covered with tall trees and there was no trig point. I found the base of a cut tree to hold up the squid pole. It was 3:45pm so I was well behind my alerted schedule which meant I only had a bit over an hour to activate. Putting up a spot for 10m SSB on SOTAwatch I started calling hoping to work Andrew VK1NAM. There was no response however a check of SOTAwatch showed Grant VK4JAZ on Isaacs Ridge VK1/AC-041 requesting a contact. I switched to 40m and made the S2S. Later on I found out that Andrew had already packed up so that reduced my chances of making a 10m contact.

Antenna and operating point on Towrang Range VK2/ST-052

Antenna and operating point on Towrang Range VK2/ST-052

I moved on to 40m and qualified the summit just on CW contacts then back to 10m for more CQ calls. Eventually I received a call from Matt VK1MA. Hallelujah! I received a similar report as on Mt Marulan and was very happy to make the contact. After that I moved on to 20m CW to make some EU contacts over the long path. My antenna had been set up for VK1 contacts so I did not expect a lot, but still managed a handful before they dried up.

Finally I moved on to 40m SSB, worked a national park, a bunch of chasers and in the last moments, a summit. It was Andrew VK3ARR doing a short activation of Mt Alexander VK3/VN-016. It was getting dark so after one more contact I quickly closed down and headed back along the trail. There was still enough light when I got back to the car to find my way back along the track without too much guesswork. I met up with the owner on the way out, let him know about the successful activation and thanked him again. A couple of km along the track I emerged onto the bitumen road.

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Highlights

  • First activation of Towrang Range VK2/ST-052
  • S2S with Takeshi JS1UEH on 10m
  • First time use of FT100D on a summit allowing 100W
  • SSB contacts on 10m with Japan
  • California 10m beacon heard on 28.244

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • ZS6BKW antenna on 9m mast
  • Yaesu FT100D powered by 4200 mAh battery
  • LDG Z11-Pro matcher

Thanks to the many chasers and activators and of course the land owner for making this activation a success!

Winter SOTA Party on Mt Bindo 2 Aug 2015

Jenolan State Forest VK2/CT-005 1310m 8pts QF56AG

For the VK1 Winter SOTA Party I headed up to the NSW Central Tablelands on the Saturday afternoon so as to be ready for an early start on Sunday 2/8/15. En route I stopped off in the Jenolan State Forest for an activation of SOTA summit VK2/CT-005. Having already activated there in March it was just for the 3 winter bonus points and any contacts for the 10m/6m challenge. The summit is 90 km due west of home and takes just under 2.5 hours to get to by road. Upon arrival I put up a spot on SOTAwatch for 10m CW and quickly set up just down the hill from the tall pine trees to the east so as to have a better takeoff to Europe via the long path.

Jenolan State Forest activation site

Jenolan State Forest activation site VK2/CT-005

Luckily Nick VK2AOH was already waiting for me when I jumped on the key. On 10m SSB I had one call from VK2PM in Sydney who is not a regular SOTA chaser. Box ticked for the 10m/6m challenge! Next I went to 20m CW and worked a bunch of EU stations with received signal reports around the 4 or 5 mark so it seemed my signal was climbing over that pine forest. Then to 40m CW to keep the locals happy and 8 more contacts. One hour before sunset I had to close to make it to my destination so there wasn’t an opportunity for 40m SSB – sorry chasers. There were 3 summit-to-summit contacts on 40m with Justin VK7TW & Hugh VK5NHG on SSB and Ian VK5CZ on CW and a total of 21 contacts. A quick close down and then the short 25 min drive to the next summit, retracing my steps most of the way.

Shack in Jenolan State Forest VK2/CT-005

Shack in Jenolan State Forest VK2/CT-005

Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003 1363m 8pts QF56AH

Arrived at Mt Bindo 15 mins before sunset and started setting up the antenna. I was torn between jumping on 20m to catch the last of the EU long path propagation and setting up the camp site. There was quite a wind on the summit and it seemed best to create some shelter before starting to operate so the tent went up right next to the trig point. 45 mins after sunset I spotted on 20m CW and was able to work only one EU and one Qld station so the propagation had flown. I tried 20m SSB and made no contacts.

Camping at the Mt Bindo trig point VK2/CT-003

Camping at the Mt Bindo trig point VK2/CT-003

First Japan-Australia summit-to-summit

About to swap bands when a SOTA spot came in from an activator in Japan. It was Takeshi JS1UEH on 17m and he was activating Ashiosan JA/IB-006 in Ibaraki prefecture just NE of Tokyo. Switching bands I heard Nick VK2AOH making a contact so I thought there was a chance for me too. Takeshi’s signal was not strong, but it was the first SOTA station I’d heard from Japan so I was very excited. My antenna was set up north-south for Europe/NA not east-west for Japan so the weak signals were no surprise. The contact was made and a 429 report sent. This is the first summit-to-summit SOTA contact between VK and JA. Japan has only recently become part of SOTA on 1st July. Soon afterwards Takeshi spotted on 15m and his signal was a similar strength as on 17m. He apparently did 20m earlier too but I was unaware of that. Great to make the contact with Takeshi-san!

SOTA database record of first JA-VK S2S

SOTA database record of first JA-VK S2S

Hunting

After the JA S2S excitement I progressed through 40m CW, 40m SSB and 80m CW. Unusually, there were no callers on 40m SSB, but it was 7pm by then so the band was in DX mode. I heard gunshots in the distance, several volleys worth. This was obviously hunters in the state forest. On a previous visit I met a professional hunter contracted to eradicate wild dogs. On the drive in I had passed some people who were probably preparing for this activity once the sun had gone down.

Sunset at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Sunset at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Overnight

With HF contacts exhausted, I started to prepare for the following day. Checked out 2m on a hand-held and found I could reach a lot of repeaters including the Mt Ginini repeater west of Canberra, a distance of over 200km. This should be a good way to contact activators – or so I thought. Had some dinner, listened on 80m for a while and then turned in early. Just before drifting off to sleep I heard the sound of my squid pole collapsing. I decided to leave fixing it until the morning. There was a slight possibility that I would wake up for the EU short path opening but I’d made an executive decision not to bother. The wind was strong and blew all night. I was woken up a few times by strong gusts deforming the tent – see the picture! In the end I decamped to the quietness and safety of the car which was not quite as comfortable but better for shut-eye.

Sunrise at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Sunrise at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Cancellation

Overnight there had been no rain, but the wind was getting stronger. The dawn was lovely but it wasn’t long before showers arrived, just short ones with long gaps in between. I reset my antenna on the squid pole and changed its orientation 90 degrees to favour the ACT. Checking the email over breakfast there were many messages on the adverse weather in Canberra. Heavy rain had fallen there overnight and discussion raged over whether to postpone or cancel the SOTA Party. There was a decision to delay the start and make a further assessment of the weather. After 2 hours with further rain arriving, the event was cancelled. I was already set up and ready to go so that wasn’t an option for me 🙂

Luckily, the Canberra weather did clear up a bit and some hardy operators ventured out in the rain and activated some summits. First morning contact was with Roald VK1MTS at One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 on 40m. I had spotted and called on 6m SSB and 10m SSB with no result up until then. There was a spot from VK3TST/1 on 52.525MHz FM but the WIA broadcast from Dural was blasting out on that frequency. Note to VK1 ops – avoid 52.525 from 10 to 11:30am Sundays.

Strong northerly wind gust = major tent deformation!

Strong northerly wind gust = major tent deformation!

Rollover

Just after UTC rollover at 10am a sequence of spots arrived – luckily not the wet kind. Leading the charge were VK3s HRA and CAT on 40m CW and signals were good. Roald then popped up on 10m and I was able to make a S2S contact into VK1 with his 40W registering an S4 on my meter over a 183km path. My 10W gave him a 5×1 signal and it was an easy contact. If only there were more activators! I stuck around listening for all Roald’s callers from VK1. The only one heard faintly was Ian VK1DI. Clearly it helps to be on a summit! A spot did come up for Andrew VK1DA on 10m but all I heard was Roald and nothing on 6m. See the elevation profile from Roald to me in the following picture. The purple oval shows the first Fresnel zone on 28.5 MHz.

One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 to Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003 elevation profile with first Fresnel zone for 10m

One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 to Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003 elevation profile with first Fresnel zone for 10m

Shocking!

I stuck around for another hour logging four more S2S contacts. At one point I started to hear a succession of pulses through the radio and wondered whether this was the approach of lightning. I disconnected the antenna and got a big jolt from static electricity when touching the BNC connector. It must have built up on the antenna due to the wind. My radio was sitting off the ground, the feedline was off the ground and there was no earthing so no discharge path. Kite-lifted antennas are recommended to be kept grounded and I wonder if other portable operators ever earth their stations? The KX3 has zero DC resistance between the two legs of the antenna so any static buildup would be summed, yet I’ve never been bitten before. Food for thought for my next activation.

Darker clouds were building and it seemed as though the rain would arrive soon. The tent had been blown dry and I did not want to put it away wet so down it came. Folding up the tent in a gale was interesting, and not successful at all. It wasn’t neat but it was dry. The station came down shortly afterwards and it was spitting with rain when the squid pole was collapsed. Timed that pretty well I thought. A total of 17 contacts including 9 S2S had made for a great activation at Bindo.

Hartley

When planning the weekend I pencilled in some other summits for activating in the afternoon. These would require a 1 hour walk each way. There was plenty of time to do them but the prospect of bad weather made the idea unattractive so instead of driving there, I drove to the historic town of Hartley and checked that out instead. While there I was able to make 5 chaser contacts, check out the gallery, old pub and courthouse. I was hoping that Nick VK2AOH on the Newnes Plateau nearby would activate on 10m but it did not eventuate so I headed back towards Sydney.

Wollemi National Park VKFF-544

At Kurrajong I stopped at the Bellbird lookout after a 90 minute drive. Weather was fine, warm and clear with great views. The wind had dropped too. Consulting the book of maps I realised I was overlooking the nearby Wollemi National Park. The idea surfaced that it wasn’t too late to do a WWFF activation of the park.

Kurrajong Lookout panorama over Wollemi NP

Kurrajong Lookout panorama over Wollemi NP

The GPS unit with topographic maps was consulted to find the exact location of the park and the coordinates set for navigation. I ended up on a track that weaves into the park and found the fence line that marks the boundary. Luckily this agreed with the GPS. The squid pole was attached to the back of the car and the antenna raised. I set up the LDG antenna matcher inline as well.

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First problem was that there was very sketchy mobile coverage. Try as I might using the parksnpeaks app there was no way of getting a spot up for my planned activation of 20m. The EU long path was open and I called but had no response. With no spotting ability I jumped onto 7090 and started calling there and got a response straight away from Paul VK5PAS en route to activating a park himself. 23 VK callers followed and one ZL and some of them surprised at the signal strength asked what I was running. Paul came back on after 10 minutes and gave me first contact into the new park he was activating – thanks, Paul! The sketchy track into my location meant I had to close down before dark to allow easy exit. There was no way I was getting on 20m at all, but there were enough contacts in the log already to call it a success. There will be other opportunities to reactivate this park and make 44 contacts.

Thanks for all chaser/hunter contacts and summit-to-summits.
Big thanks to Andrew VK1NAM who organised the event – and was then not able to participate. Mother Nature truly has the final word. Now looking forward to the rescheduled “Mark 2” event on 30th August.


Highlights

  • First JA S2S contact – with Takeshi JS1UEH
  • 10m S2S contact into VK1 with Roald VK1MTS
  • Surprise 10m contacts from VK2/CT-005
  • Unexpected park activation at Wollemi
  • 12 S2S contacts, 1 park-to-park contact
  • Tent survived the gales without maintenance
  • Winter SOTA Party was a success despite cancellation!

Map of the trip

Winter SOTA Party 2015 trip map

Winter SOTA Party 2015 trip map

Equipment – SOTA

  • Elecraft KX3 @ 10W
  • ZS6BKW inverted Vee doublet on a 9m squid pole
  • 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • PC headset
  • Quickdome 4-person tent

Equipment – WWFF

  • Yaesu FT-100D @ 100W
  • ZS6BKW inverted Vee doublet on a 9m squid pole
  • LDG Z-11Pro matcher

Roving for Winter Field Day and SOTA – June 2015

Field Days provide a great opportunity to get out and operate portable, and combining that with SOTA is very attractive. In Winter the SOTA bonus kicks in for those >1200m peaks making it irresistible. Planned 3 summits in the first 24 hrs for this trip allowing entry as a Rover station in the VHF-UHF Field Day. Another 4 summits on my to-do list also followed.

Saturday 20 Jun

Packed the car with my regular SOTA kit but also prepared myself for the field day. Recently a 2m linear amplifier had been acquired so it needed to have a plug and also a battery to supply it. Anderson plugs were soldered on to the leads on the amp and onto a new LiFePO4 4200 mAh battery, the same type used with the KX3. The amp raises the output of the KX3 on 2m from 3W to 30W, a useful increase when contesting. The amp and a 3-element tape measure Yagi were the core additions to allow 2m operation.

The other band of interest is 70cm. The KX3 tops out at 2m so I took along my Yaesu VX-7R tri-band hand-held which would at least provide an FM capability on 70cm. An SMA-BNC adaptor was also taken along in order to connect the radio to an external antenna.

Track and summits activated during the trip

Summits activated during the trip and APRS track between them

VK2/CT-004 1330m 8pts QF46xf Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve

Summit: (-33.759, 149.986806) Carpark: (-33.75161, 149.983202) Leave bitumen: (-33.715389, 150.00819)
The first summit is in a forest along the road to Jenolan Caves and had eluded previous attempts to find. This time I was armed with good GPS topographic maps and knowledge on how to navigate there from SOTAwatch. It turned out quite easy to find the way to the car park and then there’s a gentle 900m walk to the summit. My backpack was quite heavy with the extra field day gear so a walk-in that was not too arduous was welcome!

There’s plenty of flat cleared area on the summit with a road track running right through. There are also posts to attach a squid pole so setting up was quick. That was lucky since the field day started at 11am and I hadn’t got there until nearly 1pm. In a variation to normal SOTA activations, a notebook PC was brought along and used for logging field day contacts so the paper log was only used for those that could not be claimed – basically anything below 6m.

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I started out on 6m and made some contacts fairly quickly. Within a few minutes Andrew VK1DA came up portable on Mt Alexandra VK2/IL-005. After working on 6m I was encouraged to try 2m so the linear amp was set up and connected to the Yagi. It was a relief to find that Andrew could be heard on 2m and that the linear was working. The Yagi had to be held up manually as I had not brought along any hardware to attach it to the squid pole. I could stand up, hold the Yagi up 2.5m off the ground while making contact as I used my headset and VOX. The main difficulty was logging as my computer was sitting on the ground and there were not enough spare hands to carry out all functions simultaneously. I had to memorise the report, serial number and 6 character grid square – quite a challenge! This became easier as time went on as the same stations were being worked which had the same grid square.

After a couple of contacts on 2m it was time to try 70cm FM. My first contact with VK2TG was quite easy as he was reasonably close by in the Blue Mountains. It was much more difficult to reach Andrew being much further away. I could barely hear his signal which was also only 5W. In the end I stood up on a log to get as far off the ground as possible and used the 50cm whip on the hand-held to make the contact. It took quite a few tries but we got there in the end.

I stayed on the summit for 2 hrs which allowed a second contact with VK2TG on 6m, and then it was time to shift to the next location.

VK2/CT-002 Mt Trickett 1371m 8pts QF46xe Kananga-Boyd NP VKFF-256

Summit: (-33.833099, 149.984207) Carpark: (-33.832176, 149.9838)
A drive-in summit that I’ve activated before. Arrival was just before sunset and I decided to scout around to see if there was a trig point but nothing was found. Last year I had activated closer to the large mast and communications station just down the road. This time I wanted to stay clear of the inevitable high powered VHF/UHF transmitters on that site to reduce the noise floor. I set up on the edge of the forest near the summit in order to get away from the noisy powerline that runs down the clearing where one parks. This turned out to be far enough away to avoid the noise. The legs of the ZS6BKW antenna were woven between branches of the tall straight trees.

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Making contacts on this summit was a struggle. All the Field Day participants I expected to still be around weren’t there as it was after sundown. Luckily Andrew VK1DA was still on after having moved to Mt Gibraltar VK2/IL-001. I managed to crack contacts with Andrew on 6m and 2m but 70cm proved elusive. We put it down to the heavily forested area on the summit preventing any takeoff on that band – and also the QRP and FM restriction due to my gear. See Andrew’s blog. With very little Field Day activity, I spotted on 40m CW and made a couple of contacts but it was very quiet. There was no-one on 40m SSB. Andrew helped me qualify the summit on CW as we had previously only worked on SSB. After 2 hours on the summit for only 8 contacts I pulled the plug to make the long drive to the next one.

VK2/CT-011 Mt Macquarie 1205m 8pts QF46oi

Summit: (-33.646301, 149.180801) Carpark: on summit Turnoff: (-33.649824, 149.169654)
Drove through Oberon, Bathurst and Blayney en-route to the next summit which is near the town of Carcoar. Found myself stuck on a muddy track leading to the summit with lots of logging debris under the car so decided to wait until daylight before moving the car. Overnight temps dropped below zero and in the morning the frost coating the ground and the fallen wood looked spectacular. I was able to clear the wood from under the car and reverse back down the muddy track then continue on the road I had turned off, and with the aid of the topo maps drive a few km right to the summit. Best access from the Mt Macquarie Rd turnoff coordinate is to drive nearly 3 km then at the T junction (-33.644429, 149.190715) turn left and drive 1km straight up to the summit. There are a couple of towers there and a trig point 100m behind the towers.

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Sunday 21 Jun

I set up near the approach road which was open and clear whereas the trig point has overhanging trees. First contact in the log was before 9am and I had 2 hrs before the end of the 24hr Field Day. As expected, things were pretty quiet with only 5 contacts in the log for my first hour, three of those from the same station on different bands – thanks Kim VK2ASY. I made it into the ACT on 2m (but not on 6m) so there was hope for more contacts on that band. With time up my sleeve I was able to dart off and work some SOTA stations that had been spotted. This included VK1RX and VK1NAM on 10m over a distance of 240km – pretty impressive conditions. Later on I was able to work Andrew VK1NAM on 6m as well, but that was after the end of the field day, unfortunately. i put out many more calls on 6m and 2m before 11am but no more contacts were added to the log. After the end of the field day I could concentrate on SOTA contacts so worked through my usual suite of bands and modes starting with 40m CW. Conditions were good on 40m so I was able to work into VK5 and VK7 on SSB. When I got to 20m SSB, only one more contact was made and nothing on CW. Nearing midday so I closed to get to the next summit.

VK2/CT-001 Mt Canobolas 1397m 8pts QF46lp

Summit: (-33.343101, 148.983307) Carpark: on summit
This is another summit on my to-do list. I had been to the summit before but had never done an activation. Drove via a picturesque valley and windfarm next to Mt Macquarie then through Blayney to Orange and then 20km further on is the summit. The trig point is surrounded by a carpark so I set up next to a tree slightly down the slope within 20m of the trig.

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The day was still gloriously sunny but chilly at under 10 degrees. Not having to set up 2m or the netbook made for a quicker start than the 3 previous summits. First in my log were a S2S and 2 parks. Keen to get the 6m contact logged I contacted Kim VK2ASY who lives in Orange and made contact on 52.2 MHz. That was lucky as there were no other callers on 6m or 10m. Then on 20m I was able to qualify the summit on CW including one DX call from G4APO, but sigs were weak. Plenty of chasers on 40m CW and SSB to round out the activation. I closed just after 4pm allowing time to drive back to Orange in the light and tour the town. After a long walk and good feed, I set off for the next summit at 8:30pm.

VK2/CT-031 Mt Bulga 1060m 6pts QF46or

Summit: (-33.259399, 149.186005) Carpark: (-33.26211, 149.18385)
Another new summit for me and the topo maps indicated that it may be possible to drive to the summit. Tried a few different routes and found the tracks impassable and in the process circumnavigated the summit. Ended up parking on one access road and walked to the summit in the dark to check it out, most of the way bashing through the bush while watching the GPS. Having reached the top I found a road going most of the way, but it was not obvious on the GPS. Getting back to the car at night without a track was “interesting”. In all the exploration, I had found a nice camping area at (-33.26147,149.18941) so I returned there for an overnight stay.

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Monday 22 Jun

One can walk to the summit from the camping area, but it is quicker to drive to the carpark location on the main track mentioned above and go directly from there. A track goes all the way up to the trig point so it avoids the bush-bashing. The trees are a bit dense but I was able to set up at the trig point and weave the antenna wire around the tree branches. Kicked off with 40m CW and made many contacts including VK2,3,4 and 5. I then tried 10m but there was nothing doing – the band was completely closed. Ended up on 40m SSB to make more contacts where propagation was fine. Nick VK2AOH had mentioned on SOTAwatch that he could not quite hear me so I reoriented one leg of the antenna 30° by juggling it around some trees. Started calling again and this time had a response from Nick with a 539 report. That was definitely a worthwhile adjustment as no other stations were worked on either 10m or 6m. After that success I packed up and headed to the next summit.

VK2/CT-042 Mt Meehan 1017m 6pts QF46nv

Summit: (-33.094501, 149.143097) Carpark: (-33.09438, 149.13736)
Mt Meehan is another summit north of Orange and a 3/4 hr drive from Mt Bulga. Drive to the specified location in the Mullions Range State Forest and then cross through a gate and walk 500m east up the gentle slope into the AZ. The summit itself is 50m on the other side of the fence on private property amongst the trees and there looked to be a trig point there. The fence posts can be used to support a squid pole and tie off the ends of a doublet so setup was quick.

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Started operating on 40m CW with calls from VK2,3 and 5 then went to 10m CW and was rewarded by a call from Nick VK2AOH. Came back to 40m for a S2S with VK5PAS/VK5KC and VK5BJE and then back to 10m SSB but there were no calls. Switching to 20m SSB and there were weak calls from VK6. Switched to CW to complete with VK6NU and ended on 40m SSB. Received a call from VK4DD who just racked up 1000 points for Shack Sloth – congratulations, Dave!
Closed down after activating for an hour and headed for home.

VK2/CT-007 Mt Lambie 1290m 8pts QF46xm

Summit: (-33.4716, 149.9886) Carpark: on summit Turnoff (-33.454764, 149.974416)
Driving back towards Sydney provided an opportunity to activate Mt Lambie since it is just off the Great Western Hwy. The last activation here was for the John Moyle in March, and the winter bonus made it worth the effort to activate again. Besides, after a couple of hours driving, I deserved a break. Set up on the trig point as usual with the antenna oriented for EU long path.

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Started out on 40m CW and qualified there quite quickly. Went to 10m but there were no contacts, and none on 6m either. I probably should have alerted on SOTAwatch for this summit. Back on 20m there were no calls from EU so I was glad of a CW call from VK6NU. Completed the activation on 40m SSB after 50 minutes and watched the spectacular sunset then packed up for the 2 hour drive home.

Thanks to all chasers and contesters for a great long weekend!

Highlights

  • Rover entry in the Winter VHF-UHF field day
  • 7 summits, 5 winter bonuses, 59 activator points
  • 6 CW-qualified, 6 with 10m/6m contacts
  • 1 VKFF park
  • 5 new summits for me
  • 500 activator points reached: “half a goat” 🙂

Activation log

Date Summit Call
Used
QSOs 1
6
0
8
0
6
0
4
0
3
0
2
0
1
7
1
5
1
2
1
0
6 4 2 7
0
c
2
3
c
S
S
B
C
W
F
M
Points Bonus
Points
Total Points
20 Jun VK2/CT-004 (VK2/CT-004) VK2IO/P 15 2 Y Y 2 Y 1 2 8 3 495
20 Jun VK2/CT-002 (Mt Trickett) VK2IO/P 8 2 1 2 3 Y Y 8 3 506
20 Jun VK2/CT-011 (Mt Macquarie) VK2IO/P 5 1 3 1 Y 1 8 3 517
21 Jun VK2/CT-011 (Mt Macquarie) VK2IO/P 24 Y 1 2 1 Y Y 0 0 517
21 Jun VK2/CT-001 (Mt Canobolas) VK2IO/P 31 Y Y 1 Y Y 8 3 528
21 Jun VK2/CT-031 (Mt Bulga) VK2IO/P 14 Y Y Y 6 0 534
22 Jun VK2/CT-031 (Mt Bulga) VK2IO/P 1 1 1 0 0 534
22 Jun VK2/CT-042 (Mt Meehan) VK2IO/P 21 Y 1 Y 1 Y Y 6 0 540
22 Jun VK2/CT-007 (Mt Lambie) VK2IO/P 13 Y 1 Y Y 0 3 543

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 @ 12W powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet at 8m
  • Microwave Modules MML 144/40 linear amp powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • 3-element tape measure Yagi for 2m
  • Yaesu VX-7R
  • Lenovo S10-3 notebook computer

Rileys Mtn SOTA and Satellite chase 11/4/2015

Rileys Mountain VK2/SY-002 Blue Mountains NP VKFF-041 252m 1pt

50km west of the city lies the second of Sydney’s two summits, VK2/SY-002. Overlooking the Nepean River it is a picturesque spot and the Rileys Mountain Lookout is well within the activation zone. Access is gained by driving to the end of Fairlight Rd Mulgoa and then walking a fire trail for 2km, about a half hour walk. At the top there is the lookout, the Mulgoa trig point and a communications tower. Mobile phone reception is reliable here.

Map of Rileys Mtn area

Map of Rileys Mtn area

Trail sign near the carpark

Trail sign near the carpark

Carpark on Fairlight Rd Mulgoa

Carpark on Fairlight Rd Mulgoa

Turnoff to Rileys Mtn Lookout

Turnoff to Rileys Mtn Lookout

Scoping

On the day, the weather had been rainy and there was complete cloud cover for the walk in. Upon reaching the top, checked out the various landmarks and decided to position 20m from the lookout along the walking path. This is about 200m from the communications tower and Mulgoa trig point. There is a small clearing on the side of the path to set up the portable shack as well as a convenient low tree to strap the squid pole to. I used a new, safer elastic strap that has carabiners on the ends rather than hooks. if the strap were to suddenly recoil, the carabiners are a lot less likely to cause injury. I’d always been concerned with the old straps to keep eyes well away. The new straps are longer and are more stretchy.

Communications tower on Rileys Mtn

Communications tower on Rileys Mtn

Mulgoa trig point

Mulgoa trig point

Goals

The summit activation had two main aims. The first was to log as many summit-to-summit contacts as possible since many activations had been planned for the Saturday. The second was to work through the SO-50 satellite, and to that end a pair of triband held-helds were brought along. I prepared by reading this guide by Howard G6LVB.

Setup

The ZS6BKW doublet was set up on the 10m squid pole and the shack set up. It would be over 2 hours before SO-50 arrived so plenty of time for HF. Setup was completed by 2345z, a little behind schedule due to scoping out the area. During the walk-in, Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT had spotted and activated Tenison Woods Mtn VK4/SE-117 in SE Qld. The first few minutes were spent trying to find them on 40m and also 20m, but they had closed. I was interested to work them having been the first activator of Tenison Woods Mtn and having corresponded with Sid about that location during the week.

Shack and antenna near Rileys Mtn Lookout

Shack and antenna near Rileys Mtn Lookout

Safer elastic strap holding the squid pole

Safer elastic strap holding the squid pole

UTC rollover

Shack on Rileys Mountain

Shack on Rileys Mountain

It wasn’t long before some spots started arriving on SOTAwatch. In the 10 mins before UTC rollover, three other summits were on air, and the same were worked after rollover with one new one. With the summit rush over, I could start to work through the bands. As has been my recent habit, I started on 6m SSB and spotted for 52.200 MHz with one chaser call received – better than the usual result. Then I spotted for 40m CW and started working the callers. On the third call, I received an SMS from Andrew VK1NAM who had set up on Mt Stomlo. Not wanting to delay things, I sent QRX on CW and switched back to 6m to work Andrew. Signals were quite weak and there was a slow fade until I could no longer hear Andrew. Still, I was very pleased to have made a S2S on 6m as well as a second contact on that band.

CW

Activation zone, trig pt, summit pt and SOTAwatch pt

Activation zone, trig pt, summit pt and SOTAwatch pt for VK2/SY-002

I returned to 40m CW having left the chasers hanging for 15 mins while I worked Andrew and Marc VK3OHM who came up on 40m SSB. Sorry chasers! There were 3 more contacts on CW then a S2S with Bernard VK2IB on CW. With no more 40m callers I moved to 20m CW and worked two stations including John VK6NU, but his signals were not strong.

SSB

With both CW alerted bands done it was time to move to SSB. I started with 10m and looked around for a clear spot. I could hear US stations so the band was open. I got one call from Anthony VK6MAC and he was very strong. 10m was much better than 20m for VK6. Moving to 15m I had one call from VK5WG and then to 20m where there were three calls.

It was 20 minutes before the satellite pass and I started to set up the two hand-helds. The main things were the sub-audible tone on the 2m transmitter of 67Hz and changing the step to 5 kHz on the UHF receiver. On the receiver the squelch was opened up as signals were expected to be weak. Earphones were used.

SO-50

Ground track for SO-50 pass

Ground track for SO-50 pass

SO-50 was heard just before the bird flew directly overhead. VK2WEL and Hil VK2IUW were there so I put up a few calls. VK2IUW was only a few suburbs away so I heard him S9 on the uplink. A little while later I heard Adam VK2YK call once so tried to call. Fairly shortly afterwards reception was lost completely for me and I heard no more from the satellite. It seemed to go from noise-free to nothing all of a sudden, however, it is outputting only 100mW.

I wasn’t able to log any contacts, but I did hear SO-50 and did get into it with 5W and a simple antenna. I’m happy with that. The S2S will have to wait until next time. We might have done it if Adam hadn’t been affected by de-sense mid-pass. It certainly would have been possible if I’d had a 7/3 element yagi like Adam. Must build one 🙂

40m SSB

With the SO-50 excitement over, I returned to the KX3 and operated on 40m SSB. I put a spot out and started working the chasers. Wasn’t long before there was a call from Adam VK2YK. We got the S2S in on 40m and discussed the activity. Adam had worked 2 stations and also heard me calling. I also worked Hil VK2IUW on 40m who had made contact with Adam through SO-50. It was great catching up with the guys I had heard through the satellite, albeit briefly. Congratulations Adam for making two contacts and giving the S2S a go! It was certainly a lot of fun and bound to be repeated.

Stunning views over the Nepean River from Rileys Mtn Lookout

Stunning views over the Nepean River from Rileys Mtn Lookout

On 40m more calls were fielded from chasers and after a while Sid and Adele called in. They were at Jollys lookout near Mt Nebo, just down the road from Tenison Woods Mtn and a place I had recommended for great views over Brisbane. At first signals were weak until Sid improved the antenna. A spot came up from southern VK7 and I was able to hear and work Reuben VK7FREU, Paul VK7PAH and Justin VK7TW over a 1050km path on 40m from VK7/WC-013. This would not have been possible from home. After that I went back to calling on 40m and worked 4 more chasers and one summit. The activation ended with a few more S2S contacts. I had a chat to Peter VK3PF who had been sitting on VK3/VT-049 all day. He let me know there were no more summit activations coming up for a while so I was safe to close down. After a bite to eat I did just that leaving the summit at 2pm, and on the way back visiting The Rock lookout near the carpark for more great views of the Nepean River.

Results

54 contacts (11 CW), 26 summit-to-summits (19 uniques), 127 S2S pts.
It was exciting (and a little frantic) working SO-50 and I clearly need to build a 70cm beam to improve reception.
Thanks to all the chasers and activators for the contacts.

APRS track to and from the summit

APRS track to and from the summit

Equipment

Elecraft KX3 @ 12W powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery, ZS6BKW antenna at 8m on 10m squid pole.
Yaesu VX-7R with Diamond SRH940 whip.
Yaesu VX-8R with FGPS2 GPS module and Diamond SRH940 whip.

APRS track

During the walk in and out the 2m APRS beacon was enabled on my VX-8R using the usual callsign VK2IO-7. Given the proximity of the local repeater, it was surprising how few posits made it into the APRS network. It could be due to congestion or perhaps I need to raise my antenna up into the clear and add some ground radials.

Log

Date:10/Apr/2015 Summit:VK2/SY-002 (VK2/SY-002) Call Used:VK2IO/P Points: 0 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
23:51z VK3TCX/P 7MHz SSB R57 S57 7090 Ian VK3/VE-021
23:54z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB R58 S58 7095 Peter VK3/VT-049
23:58z VK3XL/P 7MHz SSB R59 S58 7085 Mike VK3/VT-001

Date:11/Apr/2015 Summit:VK2/SY-002 (VK2/SY-002) Call Used:VK2IO/P Points: 1 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
00:04z VK3EK/P 7MHz SSB R59 S58 7090 Robbie VK3/VE-021
00:06z VK2BJP/3 7MHz SSB R59 S57 7100 Russ VK3/VE-049
00:07z VK3XL/P 7MHz SSB R59 S58 7085 Mike VK3/VT-001
00:08z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB R58 S57 7095 Peter VK3/VT-049
00:13z VK2WTY 50MHz SSB R51 S52 52200 David in Cherrybrook
00:26z VK3CAT 7MHz CW R339 S569 7032 Tony
00:28z VK2WG 7MHz CW R599 S599 7032 John
00:30z VK2AOH 7MHz CW R559 S589 7032 Nick
00:32z VK1NAM/P 50MHz SSB R41 S41 52200 Andrew VK1/AC-043 slow fade out
00:40z VK3OHM/2 7MHz SSB R59 S59+5 7095 Marc VK2/HU-093
00:47z VK3PF/P 7MHz CW R599 S559 7032 Peter VK3/VT-049
00:49z VK3HRA/P 7MHz CW R559 S559 7032 Allen
00:51z VK2AFA 7MHz CW R599 S599 7032 Sam
00:52z VK2IB/3 7MHz CW R589 S579 7028 Bernard VK3/VE-024
00:57z VK1MBE/2 7MHz SSB R59 S59 7100 Andrew VK2/SM-053
01:09z VK6NU 14MHz CW R519 S529 14062 John
01:13z VK5IS 14MHz CW R579 S599 14062 Ian
01:19z VK3TCX/P 7MHz SSB R59 S59 7090 Ian VK3/VE-015
01:20z VK3EK/P 7MHz SSB R59 S59 7090 Robbie VK3/VE-015
01:24z VK2BJP/3 7MHz SSB R59 S58 7100 Russ VK3/VE-066
01:37z VK6MAC 28MHz SSB R44 S58 28580 Anthony
01:46z VK5WG 21MHz SSB R55 S55 21385 Nev
01:55z VK3LED 14MHz SSB R52 S57 14285 Col
01:57z VK5EE 14MHz SSB R56 S57 14285 Tom
02:00z VK5ACA 14MHz SSB R56 S58 14285 John
02:06z VK3KAB/P 7MHz SSB R57 S57 7090 Kevin VK3/VN-010
02:28z VK2BJP/3 7MHz SSB R59 S58 7100 Russ VK3/VE-064
02:29z VK2EJH 7MHz SSB R59 S59+10 7090 Erik
02:31z VK3OF 7MHz SSB R54 S59 7090 Rex in Swan Hill
02:31z VK3FPSR/M 7MHz SSB R55 S58 7090 Peter
02:32z VK2YK/P 7MHz SSB R59 S59+10 7090 Adam VK2/HU-074
02:42z VK2IUW 7MHz SSB R59 S59+10 7090 Hil in Glenmore Park
02:46z VK3DAC 7MHz SSB R31 S56 7090 Fred
02:47z VK3YAR 7MHz SSB R43 S59 7090 Ray
02:48z VK4ARW 7MHz SSB R57 S59 7090 Russell in Toowoomba
02:49z VK2EIR 7MHz SSB R58 S59+10 7090 Joe in Castle Hill
02:53z VK1NAM/P 7MHz SSB R58 S57 7090 Andrew VK1/AC-043
02:56z VK4/ZS5AYC 7MHz SSB R59 S54 7090 Sid at Jollys Lookout
02:57z VK4/ZS5APT 7MHz SSB R59 S42 7090 Adele at Jollys Lookout
03:10z VK7FREU 7MHz SSB R41 S43 7080 Reuben VK7/WC-013
03:11z VK7PAH 7MHz SSB R41 S43 7080 Paul VK7/WC-013
03:12z VK7TW/P 7MHz SSB R43 S43 7080 Justin VK7/WC-013
03:16z VK2YPU 7MHz SSB R57 S59+15 7090 Peter in Liverpool
03:18z VK2IB/3 7MHz SSB R57 S58 7090 Bernard VK3/VE-021
03:19z VK2BGL 7MHz SSB R59 S59+20 7090 Steve
03:21z VK3DBP 7MHz SSB R41 S58 7090 Paul
03:22z VK2KTT 7MHz SSB R55 S59 7090 Paul in Coffs Harbour
03:25z VK7BO 7MHz CW R59 S599 7028 Alan
03:28z VK2IB/3 7MHz CW R589 S579 7028 Bernard VK3/VE-021
03:31z VK2BJP/3 7MHz SSB R58 S58 7100 Russ VK3/VE-025
03:37z VK3KAB/P 7MHz SSB R57 S57 7090 Kevin VK3/VN-008

AM for fun – SOTA on Bulgo Hill 1/4/2015

Bulgo Hill VK2/IL-017 Royal National Park VKFF-435 293m 1pt

a call to AMs

Andrew VK1DA proposed using AM for a bit of fun as this mode is rarely used by SOTA operators, and also to prepare for upcoming ANZAC celebrations. I only use AM for tuning up – never for QSOs on a summit. It was time to change all that. My expectations weren’t high as Amplitude Modulation has nowhere near the penetrating power of single sideband, and with low power thrown into the mix, it reduced the range even more. The proposed outing was timed to be an “after work” activity. This time of day sees very good propagation on 40m, the main target band, so this would work in our favour.

AMmunition

The day before, SOTAwatch alerts were up from Andrew VK1DA and Andrew VK1NAM as well as Adan VK1FJAW. The weather was looking good so I thought I might as well join in. Chose to return to Bulgo Hill for my second activation of this peak. After all, there were some summit-to-summits in the offing! Access to Bulgo Hill was as per my previous activation. Last time I used 4 guy ropes to hold up the squid pole which was somewhat time consuming to set up. This time I spent more time looking around for a supportive tree – and I found one. There was foliage hanging down over the top, but it was high enough to not cause too much obstruction. In any case the antenna was at least 8m high which is fine. I also set it up perpendicular to the track where last time the antenna ran along it. This does mean diving into the bush with the antenna ends, but the better signals should make that worth while.

Antenna and shack on Bulgo Hill at sunset

Antenna and shack on Bulgo Hill at sunset

‘AMming

Once set up I started calling on 6m SSB hoping for a summit-to-summit with VK1NAM, but there were no takers. Then I tried 10m AM and SSB but nothing was heard. After about 10 minutes with some SMS exchanges with Andrew, switched to 40m AM, set the KX3 to 12 Watts and started calling. The power meter read about 5 Watts when unmodulated and kicked up to around 8W when I started yakking. The mic gain was left at the same level as for SSB and the speech processor was on as usual. There was a LSB station 5 kHz down the band and nothing nearby up the band so plenty of bandwidth for operating on AM.

Spotted myself on SOTAwatch on 40m and first cab off the rank was Andrew VK1NAM with the first of the summit-to-summit contacts, this one from Mt Stromlo VK1/AC-043. After 20 minutes and 17 chaser contacts, Andrew VK1DA came on for the second S2S. He was on Black Mountain VK1/AC-042. Read his full report here. Five minutes later, Adan VK1FJAW called in from Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037 completing the trifecta. There were two more chasers after that bringing the total to 19 AM contacts on 40m from call areas VK1,2,3,4 and 5. That was definitely better than expected! Audio was generally good with the usual selective fading typical of AM on HF. Some of the weaker signals sounded a little weird and modulation level varied but was usually fine. The summit is at least 1km from the nearest power line so QRM wasn’t an issue. The only competition was band noise, and that wasn’t excessive.

Radio "shack" on Bulgo Hill

Radio “shack” on Bulgo Hill

AMbling

With no more AM chasers I switched to CW on 40m and racked up 4 contacts. It was getting dark but I wanted to keep going. I put on the head torch, spotted myself on 20m and started calling there and made 7 contacts into EU. At 7:10pm with just moonlight left, I pulled the plug and closed down. Walking the 1.5km back to the car via moonlight with not a breath of wind was magical. And what a great activation. Using AM really was a lot of fun!

Association Manager alert – some might say an Activation Moan 🙂

Before visiting the summit I looked into the exact location of the peak as last year there had been discussion that the coordinate was out, and I had found that to be so myself. Using google Earth I was able to create a plot of the activation zone and locate the peak. Accordingly, it shows the summit at coordinate (-34.1922, 151.0297) with 293m elevation. This is a departure from the position on SOTAwatch of (-34.1916, 151.0307) at 300m. On google earth the elevation here is 7m lower at only 286m. it is still well within the activation zone. The image shows yellow pins at the 2 positions. At the peak I checked my coordinate before activating and it was close to the one from google Earth. At some point, the values on SOTAwatch should be reviewed.

Bulgo Hill activation zone, peak, SOTAwatch peak and carpark

Bulgo Hill activation zone, peak, SOTAwatch peak and carpark

AfterMath

30 successful contacts (mostly on AM) and 3 S2S in under 70 mins made for a really enjoyable activation and proved that AM mode need not be feared. Thanks chasers and activators! You could say it was AMazing!

‘AM gear

Elecraft KX3 @ 12W powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery.
ZS6BKW antenna at 8m on 10m squid pole.

AlManac

Date:01/Apr/2015 Summit:VK2/IL-017 (Bulgo Hill) Call Used:VK2IO/P Points: 1 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
06:59z VK1NAM/P 7MHz AM R58 S57 7180 Andrew VK1/AC-043
07:02z VK2YW 7MHz AM R59 S59 7180 John
07:06z VK2JMW 7MHz AM R57 S59 7180 Ian
07:06z VK3BHR 7MHz AM R55 S55 7180 Phil
07:08z VK3FQSO 7MHz AM R44 S54 7180 Amanda
07:08z VK3DBP/2 7MHz AM R59 S57 7180 Paul in Batemans Bay
07:09z VK4JD 7MHz AM R49 S59 7180 Peter
07:10z VK1MA 7MHz AM R59 S57 7180 Matt
07:11z VK3DAC 7MHz AM R57 S55 7180 Fred
07:12z VK1ATP 7MHz AM R59 S56 7180 Paul
07:13z VK5WG 7MHz AM R42 S56 7180 Nev
07:15z VK5IS 7MHz AM R55 S55 7180 Ian
07:15z VK3PF 7MHz AM R44 S56 7180 Peter
07:16z VK1EM 7MHz AM R45 S58 7180 Mark
07:17z VK1DA/P 7MHz AM R59 S58 7180 Andrew VK1/AC-042
07:21z VK2LEE 7MHz AM R59+10 S59+10 7180 Lee
07:23z VK1FJAW/P 7MHz AM R59 S57 7180 Adan VK1/AC-037
07:27z VK3ARR 7MHz AM R54 S57 7180 Andrew
07:30z VK2VK 7MHz AM R55 S59 7180 Russell
07:42z VK3CAT/P 7MHz CW R579 S599 7032 Tony
07:44z VK2AFA 7MHz CW R599 S599 7032 Sam
07:45z VK2GDI 7MHz CW R599 S599 7032 Ian
07:49z VK3RY 7MHz CW R599 S599 7032 Helen
07:54z CU3AA 14MHz CW R559 S559 14062 Joao
07:56z ON4FI 14MHz CW R539 S559 14062 Karel
08:01z DJ5AV 14MHz CW R529 S539 14063 Michael
08:02z DK4RM 14MHz CW R559 S559 14063 Xaver
08:05z OK2QA 14MHz CW R339 S559 14063 Ruda
08:06z DL1ASF 14MHz CW R559 S559 14063 Klaus
08:08z DL3JPN 14MHz CW R539 S559 14063 Steffen