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
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The Port Macquarie Dozen

Foxhunting at Port Mac and a Dozen SOTA Summits – June 2015

Oxley Region Amateur Radio Club put on a field day each Queen’s Birthday long weekend. For my second visit to this event the weekend was expanded to a week and a dozen summits added to the itinerary. Six of the summits were first activations. It made for an interesting and rewarding trip. Here’s a summary…

Summits activated (reordered chronologically)

Date Summit First
activation
QSOs Points Total
Thu 04/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-132 (Berrico) Y 25 6 437
Fri 05/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-069 (Mount Cairncross) 22 2 445
Fri 05/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-045 (Five Ways Hill) 8 2 443
Fri 05/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-032 (VK2/MN-032) 9 4 441
Sat 06/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-081 (North Brother) 25 1 446
Sun 07/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-066 (Middle Brother) 19 2 448
Mon 08/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-024 (Mount Gibraltar) 26 4 452
Mon 08/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-128 (Oxley Tobin) Y 44 6 458
Tue 09/Jun/2015 VK2/NT-019 (VK2/NT-019) Y 17 8 466
Tue 09/Jun/2015 VK2/NT-021 (VK2/NT-021) Y 22 8 474
Wed 10/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-147 (VK2/MN-147) Y 15 4 484
Wed 10/Jun/2015 VK2/MN-129 (Coneac) Y 19 6 480
APRS track with activated (green) and unactivated (red) summits marked

APRS track with activated (green) and unactivated (red) summits marked

Thu – drive north

Port Mac is a 350km drive north of Sydney. For the drive up I’d pencilled in 3 new summits, but only the first, Berrico VK2/MN-132 was activated. The other two, VK2/MN-136 and VK2/MN-123 The Pinnicle, were not easily car-accessible due to a narrowing of the Mountaineer Track. Berrico is easy to activate being able to drive into the AZ. There is a comms site there but lots of open space to set up away from it. Nice views too. Access is via Spring Creek Rd off Bucketts Way on the road to Gloucester. The APRS track stopped shortly after the turnoff onto this rough road – too much vibration perhaps!

Berrico summit VK2/MN-132

Berrico summit VK2/MN-132

Fri – Port Macquarie Summits

Activated 3 summits to the NW of Port Mac though the APRS tracking is not shown on the map. Finding the access to Mt Cairncross VK2/MN-069 was very difficult with a number of dead ends tried. Once I did get there, QRM was a problem with 5 towers on the site and no easy way to get away from them. Best access is via Scrubby Creek Rd and Jacks Rd.

Five Ways Hill VK2/MN-045 is a nice location with a picnic spot having commanding views and no QRM. It is an easy drive in along Hastings Forest Way though one road section was blocked due to logging activities so a hasty detour was required.

Five Ways Hill summit picnic area VK2/MN-045

Five Ways Hill summit picnic area VK2/MN-045

Further west on Hastings Forest Way one finds VK2/MN-032 which has an overgrown access track and a trig point marker. It is in the Willi Willi NP VKFF-537. It was dark for most of my activation here. Returned to Diamond Head camp site for overnight. This is in the Crowdy Bay NP but there was no time to activate it – d’oh!

Diamond Head

Diamond Head

Sat – Field Day 1

Field Day events didn’t start until after lunch so I visited North Brother VK2/MN-081 on the way and set up at the trig point for a combined SOTA/WWFF activation, being Dooragan NP VKFF-143. Left later than planned as fresh S2S contacts cropped up with Glenn VK3YY and Alan VK7BO. Arrived at the Field Day site at a Port Mac school in time to miss the BBQ lunch, but well before the first foxhunt. There were 3 events in the afternoon and I managed third in all 3. Heavy rain fell for much of the afternoon, but that did not dampen the spirits of the hounds. After the end of the day I set up my tent at the local campground – and it was still raining. Saturday night was spent in pleasant company and surrounds at the local Golf Club for the annual field day dinner.

View from North Brother lookout

View from North Brother lookout

Sun – Field Day 2

Trophy for Sun 80m pedestrian foxhunt win

Trophy for Sun 80m pedestrian foxhunt win

Rain cleared overnight and the second day had 4 foxhunts on the card. My results were mixed – anywhere from first to did not find. Sunday was a busier day at the field day with more traders and equipment on offer. At the closing presentation I picked up a trophy for first in the 80m pedestrian hunt using a standard radio with no mods – I had used a VX8R hand-held and whip antenna. Overall I came third on points – not bad considering I did not have specialised foxhunting gear nor any recent practice. I just used my KX3, a tape-measure 3-el yagi for 2m and a ferrite rod antenna for 80m for most events.

After the end of proceedings headed south for a SOTA activation of Middle Brother VK2/MN-066, setting up at dusk and operating into the night. The site has the main TV transmitter mast for the mid-north coast so is very noisy. Still managed to work some EUs on 20m CW, but nothing on 10m or 6m. Its another beautiful spot for photography, overlooking the coastline and South Brother.

Middle Brother view with South Brother in the foreground

View from Middle Brother with South Brother in the foreground

Mon – Oxley Hwy summits

Travelling west long the Oxley Hwy with three summits planned, the first being Mt Gibraltar VK2/MN-024 on the way to Ellenborough Falls. Turned out to be a bush bash for the last 500m to the summit with no obvious track. Nice views from the top though partly obscured. Trig point used for squid pole support and no QRM so made contacts on 10m and into NA on 15m CW. Also 40m, 30m and 20m.

VK2/MN-024 summit with Donkin trig point

Mt Gibraltar VK2/MN-024 summit with Donkin trig point

Decided there was little time for the 2x19km detour to Ellenborough Falls and drove on to Oxley Tobin VK2/MN-128, but did not arrive much before dark. The last 500m is a walk along an overgrown firetrail and there was no trig point at the end of it, but plenty of cleared area to set up an antenna. Worked all 40m except one 10m CW contact and plenty of interest as this was a first activation. Closed down at 6pm.

The third summit planned was Mt Seaview VK2/MN-003. A number of access routes such as the blocked Tobins Rd were tried for this one before finding Seaview Rd. It too became overgrown and impassable 5km before the summit. Stayed there overnight and waited for daylight before continuing.

Tue – Walcha summits

In the morning it was clear that one would need to bushbash along the “road” to reach the summit, but I didn’t fancy the amount of time and effort involved. One for the more adventurous to claim the prize as first activator. There appears to be no access to the summit from the township of Mt Seaview. Continued west on the Oxley Hwy.

Followed a cross-country route to get to VK2/NT-019, but after passing 8 gates and many cows all I found was a gate with a private property sign so had to retrace my steps. Ended up driving around through Walcha and found a track for the last 1km drive to the summit. Easy though 4WD recommended. There is a solar-powered comms site at the top, but away from the “Moona” trig point so no QRM. Very open, nice views and a great spot. Made one contact into NA on 20m CW.

VK2/NT-019 summit with Moona trig point

VK2/NT-019 summit with Moona trig point

Next goal was VK2/NT-021, a little further west, returning along the road to Walcha then turning north on a side road. One can drive all the way but the summit is on private land and the owner I encountered did not seem too amenable. Luckily, part of the AZ falls on an adjacent rise nearly as high that is on public land. One does not need to walk all that far and the grades are shallow. Worked this summit on 40m and 20m mainly with one EU on 20m CW and one VK6 contact on 10m.

Sunset at VK2/NT-021

Sunset at VK2/NT-021

Closed down at dusk and continued back to Walcha for a nice feed at the pub and set up my tent at the excellent local campsite complete with camp kitchen/TV lounge with wood-fired heater. Luxury!

Walcha camp site

Walcha camp site complete with cows in the next field

Wed – Thunderbolt’s Way summits

Departed Walcha and headed SE along Thunderbolt’s Way on the road to Gloucester. After 100km reached the turnoff labelled “Stoney Spur” to the next summit VK2/MN-147 in the Giro State Forest. Drove 200m along the track before it became impassable and I was already in the AZ. Decided to leg it to GZ to see if there is a trig point but none found. Set up in the bush along the overgrown track about 100m from the car and worked into NA on 10m CW as well as the usual 40m CW and SSB. An easy spot to activate and a first activation at that. No Optus mobile coverage.

Shack at VK2/MN-147

Shack at VK2/MN-147

Continued S towards Gloucester and soon found the Craven Creek Rd turnoff to the Coneac State Forest Rd. Its about 15km along the poorly maintained forest road. I had to clear many fallen trees from the road by hand to get through. The last part is quite overgrown and I should have walked it, but it was getting late and in the end I was able to drive almost to the Coneac VK2/MN-129 trig point. There is a clearing at the top good for setting up antennas. The mist rolled in shortly after I arrived and after I started operating it started drizzling. Continued operating after fetching a blanket from the car. Only 40m was used. Eventually it was getting dark and too wet to continue plus I wanted some daylight for the first part of the drive back so I packed up. Another first activation and the last one of the trip. 4WD or AWD is recommended for this summit – and next time I’ll bring a handsaw. No Optus mobile coverage here.

VK2/MN-129 summit with Coneac trig point at the far right

VK2/MN-129 summit with Coneac trig point at the far left

Thank you!

Thanks to the many stations that made contact during the trip – 251 SOTA contacts plus 29 mobile ones as well. Big thanks to those who spotted me on SOTAwatch, especially when I had no coverage. I was never short of a call.
Thanks to ORARC for organising the Field Day and the fox hunting!

Highlights

  • Winning a foxhunt
  • Catch up at Port Macquarie Field Day
  • 12 new SOTA summits (53 activator pts)
  • 6 first activations
  • 2 National Parks activated
  • 40m CW contact to NA
  • Many 10m contacts: local, VK6 and NA
  • Walcha camp site
  • Sunset/sunrise at Diamond Head