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