SOTA activation of Mt Vial and Mt Brune in France 06/09/2014

Mont Vial F/AM-461 360° panorama

Mont Vial F/AM-461 360° panorama

Tourist map showing Mt Vial and Mt Brune relative to Nice

Tourist map showing Mt Vial and Mt Brune relative to Nice

Mont Vial F/AM-461 Gorges de la Vésubie et du Var FFF-146 1550m 4pts

A day proclaimed for celebrating the first anniversary of SOTA in VK2 made for a good reason to do a summit activation while in France. Staying near Nice there are plenty of high mountains at the bottom end of the Alps so I chose one of the nearest 4 point summits just to the north. At only 30km away it didn’t seem far, but the topography is such that it is 60km by road. The hire car has a navigation system, but unfortunately does not have the road to the summit so I set it for the nearest town Toudon. On the tourist map for Nice, Mont Vial F/AM-461 is clearly marked so I expected it to be well signposted. This turned out not be the case so I ended up using google maps to find the access road after retracing my steps from Toudon. The mountains here are steep so access was via a series of switchbacks on a narrow, well-maintained road which takes you up from the 950m elevation of the main road. It is possible to drive almost right to the top at 1520m elevation so I parked down from the top to be outside the activation zone. There are a series of communication towers along the ridge just down from the peak. The furthest where the road ends is 300m away and the closest is 100m away. I did not expect much QRM from these.

The panorama image above was constructed from 11 separate images stitched together. It shows the operating point in the centre of the picture and the towers on the right. The left of the picture shows the Var river valley that leads towards Nice, more or less running north-south. The views there were breathtaking. No wonder it is marked on the tourist map!

Trig point, pole and 40m antenna on Mt Vial

Trig point, pole and 40m antenna on Mt Vial

Once at the peak I posted out a spot using RRT for 20m CW and started setting up the radio and 20m ground plane antenna. The trig point metalwork was used as an attachment point for my 5.4m squid pole with the radiator hanging off it. On RRT I could see some spots for VK stations. The first I tuned to was Andrew VK1NAM who was on Mt McDonald VK1/AC-048. It was pretty surprising to hear Andrew’s voice coming through with some QSB. I gave him a call and he actually heard me just using 5 Watts! There were some clicking noises on the frequency which I put down to the local communications transmitters, and luckily the noise blanker did a pretty good job of dispatching them. My first VK contact from EU – and on SSB too!

I listened on the other frequencies that VKs had spotted but no-one else was heard. It should have been possible to hear VK1MA and VK1MBE but I was probably a bit late getting started – too close to the VK1 sunset.

It was time to get active on my spotted frequency. Once I got started there were plenty of calls and I realised I was out of practice when it comes to handling pileups on CW. After a few EU stations, Andrew VK1DA called in from Mt Gillamatong VK2/ST-034 for my first CW S2S contact with VK. I also worked Tony VK3CAT on CW and when the contacts dried up I shifted to 20m SSB. I was able to work 4 more home stations and a summit-to-summit with Bob VK5FO on Mt Gawler VK5/SW-013. At 0752z it was getting late in the long path window and Bob’s signal was starting to fade. When I next had a chance to tune back his signal was gone completely.

Shack on Mt Vial with KX3 and enhanced RHM8B antenna

Shack on Mt Vial with KX3 and enhanced RHM8B antenna

I started to look around for other summit-to-summit opportunities but there was nothing more on 20m. With spots for 30m and 40m it was time to modify the antenna for those bands. I connected the Diamond RHM8B to the rig and attached the radiator for the ground plane to the top of the telescopic whip with a jumper lead. This gave me a radiator about 7m long – almost a quarter wave for 30m. To accommodate the extra length I had to lift up the squid pole onto the trig point metalwork to give it some extra height. The photo shows the final arrangement. After tuning the loading coil for 30m I was able to work Wolf DL4MHA on DM/BW-131.

After a time a spot appeared for Ed DD5LP on 40m. He had been on 20m working VK and too near for a contact on that band. On 40m he had a fine signal and was an easy contact. I had not worked him since he moved to EU so it was good to have a chat. At the end he wanted to close down to vacate the peak and get home so left me with the frequency. I stayed around on Mt Vial for some more S2S contacts on 40m and 30m.

All in all a successful activation with 3 VK S2S, 5 VK home stations and 5 EU S2S contacts as well as a bunch of EU home stations. All these were worked using 5 Watts from the internal batteries of the KX3.

Mt Vial log

Date:06/Sep/2014 Summit:F/AM-461 (Mont Vial) Call Used:F/VK2IO/P Points: 4 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
07:11z VK1NAM/P 14MHz SSB R51 S47 14290 Andrew VK1/AC-048
07:22z YO2BP 14MHz CW R559 S559 14062 Alex
07:23z MW0BBU 14MHz CW R339 S559 14062 Steve
07:24z G0VOF 14MHz CW R559 S559 14062 Mark
07:26z VK1DA/P 14MHz CW R539 S519 14062 Andrew VK2/ST-034
07:27z SP9AMH 14MHz CW R449 S319 14062 Marius
07:31z VK3CAT 14MHz CW R339 S539 14062 Tony
07:32z EA2DT 14MHz CW R559 S599 14062 Manuel
07:33z OM5DP 14MHz CW R559 S559 14062 Martin
07:41z VK2YK 14MHz SSB R31 S43 14345 Adam
07:44z VK8GM 14MHz SSB R52 S55 14345 Greg
07:45z G0RQL 14MHz SSB R56 S56 14345 Don
07:46z VK3EK 14MHz SSB R54 S56 14345 Robbie
07:47z VK3WE 14MHz SSB R51 S55 14345 Rhett
07:52z VK5FO/P 14MHz SSB R54 S33 14303 Bob VK5/SE-013
08:00z DL4MHA/P 10MHz CW R559 S579 10124 Wolfgang DM/BW-131
08:30z DD5LP/P 7MHz SSB R55 S56 7185 Ed DL/AM-001
08:38z F/DC4XH/P 7MHz SSB R56 S58 7185 Peter
08:56z OK2SAM/P 10MHz CW R539 S559 10117
09:01z OE5EEP/P 7MHz CW R559 S559 7033.5 Heinz OE/OO-033
09:13z OE9HRV/P 7MHz SSB R44 S58 7100 Herbert OE/OO-096

Mont Brune F/AM-472 1518m 4pts

View from Mt Brune F/AM-472

View from Mt Brune F/AM-472

The next mountain was Mt Brune F/AM-472 about 15 km from Mt Vial. I used google maps to find the turnoff to this one. It meant driving back to the main road and then carrying on through some small towns and then turning off the D27 road at elevation 1080m to again negotiate some switchbacks. The narrow path up the mountainside was not as well maintained as the one for Mt Vial, but still easily negotiated with a 2-wheel drive. Once near the top at elevation 1380m there is a carpark and then a steep climb on foot to the summit with no really obvious main track. It took about 15 mins of hard climbing to get up to the top at 1518m. There are no towers on top – access would not be possible!

Shack on Mt Brune with KX3 and 20m ground plane

Shack on Mt Brune with KX3 and 20m ground plane

I had limited time so decided just to operate on 20m. Setting up the ground plane is very quick as there are no adjustments so I was on air in no time. All contacts were on SSB except the last which was a S2S contact with Roger F5LKW on Montagne de la Canaille F/CR-254. It was too late for any VK contacts and I didn’t have time to chase too many summit-to-summits.

I had 14 minutes of operating time and made 13 contacts so well and truly qualified the summit. The climb down was much more enjoyable than the climb up and I was soon back in the car on my way to do a collection at Nice airport. My activating for the day was over.

A few days later I received a message on the SOTA reflector from Gerald F6HBI asking why I did not activate Cime des Colettes F/AM-478. This summit sits in between Mt Vial and Mt Brune and is also a 4 point summit. I did look into when planning the day, but access to the summit seemed to require a long hike so I would not have time to get there. It was quicker to drive to Mont Brune for the second summit. It would have been great if I’d had time to do the three summits in the one day.

Mt Brune log

Date:06/Sep/2014 Summit:F/AM-472 (Mont Brune) Call Used:F/VK2IO/P Points: 4 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
10:36z EB2JU 14MHz SSB R59 S57 14345
10:37z G0RJL 14MHz SSB R57 S55 14345 Don
10:37z G6WRW 14MHz SSB R55 S55 14345 Caroline
10:38z EA2DT 14MHz SSB R31 S53 14345 Manuel
10:39z G0VWP 14MHz SSB R55 S57 14345
10:40z OK1SDE 14MHz SSB R55 S57 14345
10:40z M0ONI 14MHz SSB R44 S55 14345
10:41z DL8UVG 14MHz SSB R55 S55 14345
10:41z G3XQE 14MHz SSB R53 S55 14345 Ken
10:42z EB1JFK 14MHz SSB R41 S53 14345
10:44z DL3HXX 14MHz SSB R44 S55 14345
10:45z DM7MRE/P 14MHz SSB R55 S54 14345
10:50z F5LKW/P 14MHz CW R559 S519 14061 Roger F/CR-254

Thanks to all chasers and activators.
I had a great day out in France celebrating the VK2 SOTA anniversary!