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
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Bulgo Hill VK2/IL-017 Activation 07/05/2014

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

Attending CeBIT followed by a visit to a computer shop in southern Sydney put me within striking range of Bulgo Hill VK2/IL-017. This presented the ideal opportunity for a SOTA activation. Rod VK2TWR and Russ VK2BJP were out and about activating summits, but my schedule for the day would mean they were likely to finish well before I made it to the start. This turned out to be the case. Incidentally, at CeBIT there was an Icom stand; no ham gear but I did meet a young Japanese engineer Hiro, VK3EHG/JM3EHG who also enjoys operating on mountains.

KX3 Companion

In the days leading up to the activation I had been testing a new Android mobile phone application called KX3 Companion. This app allows the KX3 to operate digital modes PSK31 and RTTY as well as CW. Being mainly interested in PSK31 I had made 2 DX contacts using the app on 20m and familiarised myself with its operation. The app is still at alpha quality and there have been some frustrations with it, but for the most part it does the right thing. There have been some exchanges with Andrea IU4APC, the author and he responds quickly with suggestions. The main issues have been related to switching on after a screen timeout and switching the display between portrait and landscape mode. Also, the odd synchronisation issue with the KX3.

On the app I set up macros for some of the regular information that needs to be sent. One can enter the destination callsign and have that included in prepared text which is very useful. There are 4 fields that can be customised in this way so it can save a lot of typing, which isn’t exactly fast on a mobile phone “keyboard”.

Bulgo Hill

The summit is located 30km south of Sydney in the Royal National Park (VKFF-435). The quicker access from Sydney is via Waterfall on the Princes Hwy, however the scenic drive through the Park is not much longer. The APRS track on the map shows the drive in. There are gates on the entry just off Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. Immediately turning right onto Garawarra Farm Rd a dirt track leads to the Garawarra Farm carpark and then a fire trail provides access to the summit along the Coast Walk. The walking distance is 1.5km with a gentle grade. The summit is on the trail although the SOTA reference seems to be off by about 100m down to the west. The black triangle on the APRS map shows the location of the summit.

Image

APRS map of Bulgo Hill

Image

Start of the access trail – the track on the right towards Lilyvale leads to the summit

Activation

The goal for this activation was to work PSK31 and SSB. It took longer than usual to set up on the fire trail because there were no convenient stumps to lash the squid pole to. Away from the fire trail the vegetation was too dense. I ended up deploying the SOTAbeams guying kit that had been reworked to suit a longer squid pole. It was the first time I’d used this in the field and it went together well with the 8m squid pole even though I had only tried it with the 10m pole. The guying ring ended up quite low down on the pole because of its limited adjustment range so the guying points were quite far apart.

Image

Setting up on the summit

I started out on 7.035 MHz in PSK31 at around 1620 local time and had good mobile coverage so spotting was no problem. There were three responses received to my CQ calls over about 10 minutes but they did not decode at all. It seemed as though the other station was using a different mode, perhaps RTTY. Adjusting RIT and receive filter bandwidth did not improve things. After continuing for some time I switched to 14.071 MHz. It was quite busy with DX coming through. Shortly after re-spotting for 20m I had to shift up 100 Hz from my spot because a DX station came on. I continued to call and could not raise any response. After 5 minutes I realised that the remaining light was limited so it was time to switch to SSB rather than re-spot on the PSK31 frequency.

The antenna was set for 20m so I moved up the band and spotted there. The antenna had been set up broadside to Europe but I normally use the 10m pole when chasing DX. It didn’t take long before Mike G6TUH came back. At last – a contact! DX too! Shortly after that along came John VK6NU. The light was fading faster now and I still had not qualified the summit. Switching to 40m SSB there were 7 more contacts in quick succession and by then it was time to close. Ron VK3AFW offered to give PSK31 a try but there was not enough light left by then to be able to continue. I still had to pack up and walk back.

Postscript

Well the summit was qualified which is always pleasing, and there was one EU contact on SSB. Unfortunately, no PSK31 contacts even though propagation was good. As far as I can tell there was only one PSK31 chaser which can be explained by the mid-week activation during business hours. If there are any chasers active on PSK31 it should be possible to work them on 20m long path as there were certainly stations being decoded. I may have had more luck starting on 20m rather than spending a lot of time on 40m.

Log

Thanks to the following chasers and also those that I didn’t log on PSK31.

Date:07/May/2014 Summit:VK2/IL-017 (Bulgo Hill) Call Used:VK2IO/P Points: 1 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
06:55z G6TUH 14MHz SSB R31 S56 14285 Mike
06:57z VK6NU 14MHz SSB R51 S56 14285 John
07:06z VK3ARR 7MHz SSB R59 S57 7090 Andrew
07:07z VK2YK 7MHz SSB R59+ S59+20 7090 Adam
07:08z VK2YW 7MHz SSB R59 S59+10 7090 John
07:09z VK3ERW/M 7MHz SSB R57 S59+10 7090 Erwin
07:10z VK3PF 7MHz SSB R55 S59 7090 Peter
07:11z VK3AFW 7MHz SSB R57 S59+20 7090 Ron
07:12z VK3CAT/M 7MHz SSB R56 S58 7090 Tony

Equipment

KX3 transceiver @ 10W output, linked inverted V dipole 7m high coax fed with common mode choke, Android phone running KX3 Companion, USB host mode adaptor and USB serial cable for the KX3.

Highlights

  • First PSK31 activation
  • First use of KX3 Companion on a summit
  • First use of guying kit
  • First summit not requiring walking out of the activation zone