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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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|