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
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Mt Tootie VK2/CT-082 first activation 26/07/2014

Mt Tootie showing the APRS track from Sydney

Mt Tootie showing the APRS track from Sydney

In January 2014, I was activating some nearby summits and scoped out Mt Tootie for a possible activation. It had not been activated for SOTA before so there was not much information available. It turned out to be on private land and I was ablt to meet the owner. Shortly afterwards I went overseas for a while and promptly forgot about the summit.

Months went by… I happened to be reading Garry VK2GAZ‘s blog and noticed mention of Mt Tootie. It turned out that Garry had been in touch with the manager of the property and had been able to secure permission. Garry had asked if anyone was interested in coming along as it was his first activation. I quickly raced off an email expressing interest!

The activation was due to be in August, but was brought forward at the last minute to the last Sunday in July. This was lucky because by pure chance, the date coincided with the VK1 SOTA Party. What good fortune! I had been planning to activate a local summit, probably a reactivation of Canoelands VK2/SY-001. The new summit was a much more exciting option.

Location

Mt Tootie VK2/CT-082 is along the Bells Line of Road west of Sydney about half way between Richmond and Lithgow. Just west of Bilpin, famous for its apples, turn north and then follow the well-maintained dirt road. There is not much traffic on this road though it is rather windy so care must be taken.

Mt Tootie activation zone

Mt Tootie activation zone

Garry and I had worked out the access and best location for parking. The picture highlights the activation zone. All of the area shown is on private property. Conveniently, car parking is 28m elevation below the summit, just right of the building to the east of the yellow summit marker. This spot is just inside a gate after passing the house. Once on foot, continue along the road, pass through another gate and then follow it around to the left, then leave the road for the short sharp climb to the top.

When we reached the summit, somewhat puffed, there were a few surprises compared to the satellite photo.

The tall tower apparent in Google’s imagery from 2007 was not present. The building next to it must have housed transmitting gear, but that has all been removed and only the building remains. There is no sign of the tower that used to be there, not even concrete pads. So – no QRM worries.
There is a power line that runs north-south not far down from the summit, but no QRM was evident from this.
The trig point is about 20m SE of where the tower used to be. This is a convenient mounting point for antennas so I set up a squid pole next to it. There is a wire fence around the old transmitter building that can also be used for mounting a squid pole so Garry took advantage of that. The land around the top drops away quickly so the house further east on the property cannot be seen when at the top.

The weather was amazing – clear blue skies and no wind at all. It was much warmer than expected, even a little toasty. The view was also magic as you can see in the photos.

Mt Tootie trig point and inverted Vee antenna

Mt Tootie trig point and inverted Vee antenna

Operating

Garry and I set up our stations quite close together. Probably too close as it was not possible to work two bands simultaneously, not even 40m and 6m due to front-end overload. I’ve not done a joint SOTA activation before, although once operated multiple stations at Barrenjoey Lighthouse for the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend when there were multiple 100W transmitters causing mutual interference. This time we had 5W/10W transmitters but that did not diminish the problem. This summit would be big and steep enough to operate either side of the hill out of sight of one-another and possible run simultaneously on the one band, but that wasn’t for us.

Even though we alerted on SOTAwatch for a 0030z start, everything had gone well timing-wise so we were on the air by 2330z. Garry kicked things off and made a bunch of contacts and then I took over at 2346z. We both worked a bunch of summit-to-summit contacts before rollover as well as some chasers. I didn’t go hunting for all the summits that Garry had already worked as a S2S – there would be time for that later.

UTC Rollover

Garry checks the matching on the 2m Yagi

Garry checks the matching on the 2m Yagi

Rollover came and then Garry started calling again on 40m. I started to prepare for operating on 6m and 2m. For 6m, my linked dipole had grown two appendages and had turned into a double dipole. The same antenna had been used successfully as a 160m/80m double dipole for the VK Trans-Tasman Contest the previous weekend. When setting up, care had to be taken to ensure the arms for 6m were hanging below the main span of the linked dipole. The length chosen gave an SWR minimum at 51.39 MHz with sufficient bandwidth to allow operating at 50.1 and 52.525 MHz.

For 2m, I had brought along a homebrew 3-element tape measure Yagi and a small hand-held to try and work Sydney stations. A lot of repeaters could be heard from the summit and as the ARNSW Sunday broadcast was on, a lot of the repeaters were sending out the program. The repeaters provided good beacons for estimating beam headings. The Yagi had not been used on transmit in anger before. It was mainly built for fox hunting and was useful in securing a few wins at the 2013 Oxley Field day. The day before it had been checked out to see whether it would match a transmitter. There were no worries there – it was under 1.2:1 VSWR from 144-146 MHz.

Two "shacks" on Mt Tootie

Two “shacks” on Mt Tootie

Mobile coverage on the Optus network was slightly marginal at Mt Tootie, but I managed to get a spot out for 2m using RRT. I started calling with the beam pointed towards Sydney. There was no response after repeated calls so I started listening on 6m. Compton VK2HRX had put up a spot for 52.150 SSB so I started listening there. The frequency was a little unusual. Did he really mean 50.150? I didn’t hear him on either frequency, but my receiver was getting hammered by 40m transmissions. At least I could hear the broadcast from Dural on 52.525 FM really well so I knew my antenna was working.

After half an hour at the mic working many more stations, Garry decided to have a break so I jumped onto 40m again for a post-rollover stint. Garry had worked all the summits after rollover so after a time working some stations on 7090, I became a chaser – on a summit. Most of the activators had stuck around and I was able to find them on the 40m band. Then after half an hour a new activator came on unannounced. It was Scott VK2SWD activating a summit just west of Lithgow about 40km away called Mt Walker VK2/CT-019 and also doing a first activation. We were not the only ones! Word spread quickly about Scott’s activation so he had plenty of calls. It sounded like it was a bit of a hike to get to Mt Walker, but that is another one to attempt later on now that I am running out of “local” summits to activate.

40m propagation

Critical freq chart for Sydney

Critical freq chart for Sydney

In the days leading up to the VK1 SOTA Party there had been poor propagation on 40m, especially from 2330z to 0030z. Local contacts on 40m were not possible for three consecutive days around 0000z. The Ionospheric Prediction Service had issued a warning that MUFs were depressed by as much as 30%. I posted an alert to this effect on the SOTA Australia Yahoo group to alert folks trying to make S2S contacts across ACT that it may be difficult.

What actually happened? Well conditions were still degraded on 40m, but there was only one fadeout that I heard during a contact with VK2FAJG/1 at 2356z. The graph from the IPS shows how the FoF2 critical frequency varied through the day. The VK1 SOTA party period is highlighted in grey and the green line shows 7 MHz. The red line is the critical frequency and it is below 7 MHz for most of the party. The unbroken white line is the predicted monthly value so conditions were indeed depressed, though not quite enough to severely affect making contacts.

Moving on from 40m

Mt Tootie house over the hill

Mt Tootie house over the hill

There weren’t any chasers left on 40m so I decided to give 20m a go. I spotted and got a few calls out before I realised I was still using the 40m setting on the linked dipole. After unlinking for 20m there was a lot more success. I was able to catch Andrew VK3ARR who was really too close for a 20m S2S contact, but he had shifted off 40m so I had no choice. He gave me a 2×1. I also managed to work Mike VK6MB but only 5×1 both ways. Still, always great to get him in the log. VK1MBE portable 4 was also around too but not loud enough for a contact. I had not brought my vertical for this activation. A few of the other SOTA stations were on 20m too, but all too close to be heard. There was no short skip to be had.

Long haul 2m SSB

Before the event I’d been in touch with Andrew VK1NAM to organise a S2S contact on 2m. At first it was to be on FM, but after it turned out that Garry had an FT817 capable of SSB, that would be the preferred option. Garry had not used the rig on 2m SSB before. This would be his big chance. Andrew was on Castle Hill VK1/AC-032 southwest of Canberra.

Grave of Frederick Ashwell MBE

Grave of Frederick Ashwell MBE

After liaising with Andrew, we began to call on 2m but nothing was heard. I was holding up the Yagi and keying the mic and Garry was holding up the radio and battery. We were just off the summit where Garry had set up so decided to move to the trig point slightly higher up. It was amazing that after a short while we could clearly hear Andrew coming through – not strong, but perfectly readable with quite a lot of QSB. This was over a path of 262km. Andrew was using 45W and a  3-element Yagi but could not really hear my call using only 5W. Andrew decided to move his beam around. This seemed to do the trick and a 4×1 report was received and a 5×1 sent.

Garry had a go as well and also made contact. I just remembered in time to video it and Andrew’s signal was suffering from a lot of fast flutter, probably due to aircraft reflections. Watch the video of Garry’s contact here.

This was the last contact of the activation, and the most enjoyable. It was my first contact on 2m from a summit – and just happened to be a S2S as well. Thanks, Andrew.

Highlights

VK2IO operating at Mt Tootie

VK2IO operating at Mt Tootie

There were many highlights, but 28 summit-to-summit contacts for 92 points does not happen every day! 11 were before rollover so it was worth getting to the summit early. There were 3 new unique summits for me including 1 first activation. Garry and I forgot to work each other so can’t claim a Mt Tootie contact. I hope someone else is able to get up there now that we have broken the ice.

Taking part in a dual activation was also new for me and also great fun.

Thanks to all the other ops taking part in the VK1 SOTA Party, the organiser Andrew VK1NAM, all the chasers and especially Garry for organising access to the summit. It was hectic fun! I had planned on CW and PSK31 modes as well, but had little opportunity. My log is listed below and Garry’s report can be read on his blog.

Log

Before UTC rollover

23:46z VK3FPSR 7MHz SSB R57 S59 7090 Peter
23:47z VK3PF 7MHz SSB R56 S55 7090 Peter
23:48z VK3WE 7MHz SSB R57 S56 7090 Rhett
23:48z VK2HRX/P 7MHz SSB R59 S58 7090 Compton VK1/AC-048
23:50z VK1MBE/4 7MHz SSB R56 S55 7090 Andrew VK4/SE-094
23:50z VK3MRG/P 7MHz SSB R57 S56 7090 Marshall
23:51z VK1EM/P 7MHz SSB R59 S56 7090 Mark VK1/AC-043
23:51z VK2AET/P 7MHz SSB R59 S59 7090 Scott VK2/NR-038
23:52z VK3YY/P 7MHz SSB R58 S53 7090 Glen VK3/VC-002
23:54z VK3CAT/P 7MHz SSB R55 S53 7090 Tony VK3/VC-030
23:54z VK3XL/P 7MHz SSB R58 S54 7090 Mike VK3/VC-031
23:54z VK3MEG 7MHz SSB R58 S57 7090
23:55z VK1NAM/P 7MHz SSB R58 S55 7090 Andrew VK1/AC-032
23:55z VK3AFW/P 7MHz SSB R58 S55 7090 Ron VK3/VC-007
23:56z VK2FAJG/P 7MHz SSB R57 S53 7090 Andrew VK1/AC-038
23:57z VK3ARR/P 7MHz SSB R57 S53 7090 Andrew VK3/VC-018
23:58z VK2DMT 7MHz SSB R55 S58 7090 Dean

After UTC rollover

00:31z VK3AV 7MHz SSB R56 S55 7090 Bernard
00:33z VK1DI/P 7MHz SSB R59 S57 7090 Ian VK1/AC-023
00:34z VK2AET/P 7MHz SSB R59 S55 7090 Scott VK2/NR-038
00:37z VK3EK/P 7MHz SSB R58 S55 7090 Robbie VK3/VT-041
00:38z VK3AFW/P 7MHz SSB R58 S57 7085 Ron VK3/VC-007
00:39z VK3ANL/P 7MHz SSB R57 S52 7110 Nick VK3/VU-002
00:42z VK2FAJG/P 7MHz SSB R56 S55 7120 Andrew VK1/AC-038
00:42z VK1EM/P 7MHz SSB R59 S59 7120 Mark VK1/AC-043
00:43z VK1RX/P 7MHz SSB R57 S56 7120 Al VK1/AC-025
00:44z VK3MCD/P 7MHz SSB R56 S55 7130 Brian VK3/VE-006
00:46z VK1MA/P 7MHz SSB R59 S57 7161 Matt VK1/AC-042
00:48z VK3CAT/P 7MHz SSB R55 S54 7137 Tony VK3/VC-030
00:49z VK2FPRA/P 7MHz SSB R57 S55 7115 Percival
00:51z VK5BJE/P 7MHz SSB R55 S55 7105 John VK5/SE-005
00:55z VK2TWR/P 7MHz SSB R58 S59 7075 Rod VK2/ST-006
01:00z VK2SWD/P 7MHz SSB R57 S57 7095 Scott VK2/CT-019
01:02z VK1NAM/P 7MHz SSB R58 S55 7080 Andrew VK1/AC-032
01:16z VK3FPSR 7MHz SSB R59 S57 7090 Peter
01:29z VK3ARR/P 14MHz SSB R21 S51 14330 Andrew VK3/VC-018
01:34z VK6MB 14MHz SSB R51 S51 14285 Mike
01:50z VK1NAM/P 144MHz SSB R41 S51 144200 Andrew VK1/AC-032