Category Archives: field and portable

Gippstech Trek

A long weekend travelling from Canberra to Morwell and Churchill, Victoria, via Mt Delegate VK3/VG-034, Goonmirk Rocks VK3/VG-048 and returning via Mitchell River NP, Lind NP and Coopracambra NP.

For this year’s trip to the Gippstech conference in Churchill, Victoria, I travelled with my brother Chris VK1DO and had selected several SOTA summits for activations on the southerly leg of the trip. I used the IC703 for all radio activations, powered by a 4200 mAH LiFe battery. The battery was recharged after two activations.

We left the Canberra area on time at about 7:15am and arrived at the Nimmitabel Pie Shop on time just after 9am. Powered by coffee and food we forged on to Mt Delegate where we were on air by 11:10 local time. 30 contacts were made on 40m by 11:46, followed by one contact on 20m with VK6MB.

The hut at Mt Delegate
The hut at Mt Delegate
Inside the hut.  Air conditioned.
Inside the hut. Air conditioned.
Facilities
Facilities

Leaving Mt Delegate we turned southwards at the T junction and headed to Bendoc, then to Goonmirk Rocks, by continuing southward along the Bendoc-Orbost road. This was a good gravel road and we made good time along it to the junction with Gunmark Road. The parking spot for Goonmirk Rocks is about 10km along Gunmark road, travelling east and south. Again this road is a reasonable gravel road in fair condition. We were travelling in a comfortable 2WD car.

At Goonmirk Rocks we parked near the gate on Coast Road (where the gate post had apparently been ripped out of the ground) and walked about 2km up to the operating position on the road next to the summit peak. It is a gentle slope and an easy walk.

Starting on 40m again, we logged 26 contacts followed by 4 on 20m, including VK5WG, VK6MB, s58AL and VK2KTT. This site is within the Errinundra NP, VKFF-158. See ParksNPeaks for details of SOTA summits/National Parks names/VKFF numbers. The raw data about each summit can be found on the tab labelled “Data tables”.

Left Goonmirk Rocks at 2:20, back at the car by about 2:40, then almost 2 hours on the continuously winding road to Orbost, where we stopped for refreshments. There is no point trying to make highway speeds on that one. Calling it the Bonang “Highway” is an example of country humour, I think.

The leg from Orbost to Morwell took about 2h45, travelling mostly at 100 km/h. The main towns passed are Bairnsdale, Sale and Traralgon.

The pub dinner at the Top Pub in Morwell has become a standard feature of the Gippstech weekend, with the usual BS sessions where tall tales are told about the DX worked, the DX just missed, the QRM that made it impossible to get the DX etc. Plus the food portions served are generous.

The Gippstech technical presentations started at 9:00 on Saturday morning in a lecture theatre at Federation University, Churchill (previously known as the Gippsland campus of Monash University Melbourne). Ably chaired by Peter Freeman VK3PF the sessions proceeded throughout the day, punctuated by coffee breaks, with some new and used equipment on display and for sale. The transverters designed by Graham vk3XDK were on display with the Eastern Zone club’s table offering printed and CD versions of past proceedings.

Following dinner on Saturday night and a morning of more technical presentations, a pizza lunch marked the end of the conference and after saying our farewells to the large number of friends we set off back up the highway. Due to overnight snow, the SOTA activations considered before the weekend were dropped in favour of activating Mitchell River National Park for both the VKFF award and for the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks award. I had discussed several possible National Parks with Peter VK3PF on Saturday night and on Sunday morning Peter kindly presented me with notes and Google trip instructions for three such parks. Thanks again, Peter.

Following those instructions we left the Princes highway between Sale and Bainsdale, drove about 25km up a sealed road, then about 5km on gravel to find the Mitchell River National Park. With the squid pole attached to a fence post and the radio on another fence post, we made 17 contacts on 40m.

The next morning after leaving Orbost we were travelling towards Cann River. The highway passes Lind National Park so it was dead easy to stop on the side of the highway, locate the antenna and radio inside the park and make 13 contacts on 40m. From Cann River travelling north on the Monaro Highway, the Coopracambra NP is located to the east of the highway and a short drive up the forest road took us to a T junction where there was ample space to stop and make another 17 contacts.

The activations of summits and national parks this weekend made a big difference to the road trip. I always enjoy a field operation, no matter how short or limited it is. The SOTA and National Parks angles add a motivation to it and having the stations worked say how much they appreciate the contacts is also rewarding, adding to the fun.

Equipment used: Icom IC703, 10 watts output. Antenna: linked dipole made using chopping board insulators, spade lugs and a BNC connector at the centre insulator. Power: LiFe (Lithium iron) battery pack 4200 mAH.

Mt McDonald VK1/AC-048 21 June 2014

This activation became possible on Saturday morning so I alerted for 1pm (0300 UTC), collected my radio and walking gear, then headed off along the road from Yass, across the Murrumbidgee and onto the Mountain Creek Road, along to the Uriarra homestead and east towards the Cotter. It was very foggy for most of the trip, even at that time of day. It is about an hour from Yass to the carpark next to Mt McDonald. The walk up to the summit took about 50 mins, via the formed road and all the way up the switchback for 4WD vehicles, no doubt a scramble up the hill under the power line would be a lot shorter, but after wet weather, of dubious safety and a lot steeper. I opted for the longer route.

After setting up a 3 el beam for 2m I was able to work Geoff VK2UL at Yass on 2m and 70cm, later with the dipole up I also worked him on 6m for the winter vhf field day. Signals were s9 both ways on the higher bands with a real antenna. Also Andrew VK1MBE was on Spring Hill just north of the ACT/NSW border VK2/ST-036 so I earned some chaser and s2s points. Moved onto 40m and made another 30 contacts, then to 20m where I made a cw contact into Czech republic with OK2PDT, an SSB contact with a mobile in Romania, YO6PSD, who listened for my callsign several times and copied it finally – a great effort for a mobile operator hearing a 5 watt signal from the other side of the world. Then I tried 18 MHz, with only one completed contact, N0OI on CW from California.

The temperature dropped at about 3pm and some darker clouds were approaching, so I packed up and walked back down, stopping to take some photos of the Cotter catchment, then some photos of the new Cotter dam from the roadside and the pedestrian bridge over the river. Compared to the old dam, the new one is more than twice the size, towering over the valley and completely dominating the downstream area, which is what dams should do.

Photo gallery from flickr, using Awesome Flickr Gallery Plugin.

SOTA activation – Bullen Range – VK1/AC-033

Encouraged by unexpectedly warm autumn weather I decided that activating this readily accessed summit was a good way to spend Sunday morning on 25th May.

Recent blog postings by Andrew Moseley VK1NAM and Ian Sinclair VK1DI
had confirmed the access and even provided a GPS track to load into my GPS62S. It was hardly necessary though it is interesting to look at the contour lines and levels as you walk along this path and up the hills.

I left home at about 6:45 and arrived at the start of the walk at about 8 am. On the way up I counted six gates to negotiate, one of which had a chain latch to open but the rest had to be climbed over or through. They are multiplying as others mentioned five.

Much of the pathway would be readily ridden on a bike. It might be just as well to leave the bike at the foot of the final ascent because it is steep enough to be difficult on the way down.

The photos taken by Andrew Moseley and Ian Sinclair show the route and the scenery. At the summit, the log and the stumps provide luxurious lounge room standard SOTA operating bench. For once I didn’t sit on the ground and fight off the ants, though I did get a mosquito bite from something that looked like it needed to file a flight plan before taking off.

The FT817 with mike and cw paddle at the ready
The FT817 with mike and cw paddle at the ready

 

All the comforts of home, a table and a choice of chairs
All the comforts of home, a table and a choice of chairs
Southern view towards Castle Hill with Mt Tennent towering over it at the rear
Southern view towards Castle Hill with Mt Tennent towering over it at the rear

On the radio I put 48 contacts into the log, mainly on 7 MHz, but also on 146, 24, 28, 14 and 10 MHz.

Two contacts come in for a special mention. One was on 10.12 MHz with Peter VK3YE/m on the beach, literally barefoot (*) in ankle deep water, carrying the radio and a loop antenna. Signals were up to s9 from Peter but in a very short time went down to inaudible. A VK5 was also on the frequency but conditions dropped out so quickly I didn’t have time to get a report from him.

The second contact was incomplete because of battery problems at the other end. It was Paul VK1PAW who was using a recently built MST (Minimalist SSB Transmitter) on 20m. Unfortunately the battery problems prevented a contact being completed but I received an email from Paul explaining the problem. I really like the concept of the MST and want to build one myself. The power level of 5w is adequate for some remarkable contacts on 20m. I have proven that with the 817, working European stations several times, including some activators on summits themselves.

My audio recording was not successful due to low battery on the MP3 player I used to make the recording.  Another device to recharge before SOTA activations!  The recharge list is now:

  • 4200 mAH Main radio battery,
  • 2500 mAH backup battery
  • phone
  • GPS batteries
  • camera
  • video camera (optional, usually left at home)
  • mp3 player.

* radio joke. Barefoot normally means using a radio without any external power amplifier.  In this case the radio and the operator were barefoot.  😉

John Moyle memorial field day contest 2014

Wind and rain were the winners and highlights of this event.

To avoid a late start I packed the car on Thursday night and I set off for mount Ginini after work on Friday afternoon. I arrived on site at about 7 pm and put up the tent and the 20m vertical. I had a chat with a few other hams that night and tested out the antenna. A strong contact with a ZL2JBR was particularly encouraging. On the ic703 with 10w output I received very good signal reports.

The second hf antenna, a linked dipole, was set up on Saturday morning. I heard a bleat from SOTAGOAT on the iPhone and found it was my SOTA buddy Andrew vk1nam operating at the south coast about 120-130km away announcing he was calling cq on 28.490. I dropped the dipole and removed the links at the 10m position and walked back to the tent to set the radio on the right frequency. Tuning across the band I found a number of USA stations at good strength. Ok so 10m was in good shape but I had VHF antennas to assemble so I started back out of the tent. Before moving far I had to return to the radio as there was a loud cq call heard from vk1nam on a SOTA peak at the south coast. We had a good contact that surprised us both.

I continued the assembly process with a few breaks to make some SOTA contacts on 40m with some of the regular chasers.

The VHF and uhf antennas went together normally though I had made it more difficult by assembling them on the downhill side of the slope from the mast position.

By the time I was ready to lift the mast up a team of radio club members had arrived Onsite to make adjustments to the repeaters onsite. I asked Matt vk1ma to help with the mast so it was soon up and working.

VHF conditions seemed poor. Signals from vk2rsy and vk3rgl beacons were ok on 144.420 and .530 but neither was at a good strength and their 432.4 signals were weak or unreadable.

The contest got under way at midday local time but the poor weather had obviously kept a lot of operators at home. Progress on VHF was very slow.

One vk3 portable in the voctorian high country was worked on 50, 144, 432 and 1296 MHz. A few others were heard but not worked. Towards Sydney there were several on air and later on Saturday vk1pwe was worked at Mt Coree about 30km north of my position.

Saturday evening approached and the repeater team paid me a visit before leaving for Canberra. They cheerfully told me the forecast was for very cold conditions and possibly snow overnight.

A session on 20m cw and Ssb netted about 35 SOTA contacts running the 703 on battery power. The vertical worked well.

Later some more contacts were made on the VHF bands but generally it seemed like the VHF scores would be very low.

VHF/UHF Field day January 2014

I set up my usual station on Mt Ginini QF44JL for this event.

On 50 MHz, a TS670 and a HL66V amplifier producing 60w to a 3 el cushcraft yagi on a 4m mast.

On 144 MHz, the IC910H 100w to an 8 el yagi at 6m agl.  On 432 MHz the IC910H 75w to a 16 el yagi at 4.5m agl with an icom mast head preamp 1.5m from the feedpoint.

On 1296 Mhz I had unfortunately not packed the pair of 18el yagis normally used.  As a token antenna to make some local contacts, I connected a 2m quarter wave vertical with about 3m of RG58 coax and laid that horizontally on the roof of the tent, bisecting the side and centre aluminium stressors that are part of the roof structure of my old Coleman tent.  This “antenna” gave me some local contacts on 1296 and with effort, a contact with vk2smc near Nimmitabel.

On Saturday I found conditions ordinary with no unusual contacts made.  On Sunday morning at 5AM local time I checked the usual beacons from Sydney, Mt Anakie in VK3, Mildura in VK3 and the Gippsland beacon, on both 144 and 432 where possible.  With the very calm conditions overnight I wondered if I would hear any beacons from further afield and checked the Mt Gambier beacon VK5RSE on 144.550 and the Adelaide beacon VK5VF on 144.450.  Both beacons were received at good strength, and during the following 5 hours both beacons remained audible, the Adelaide beacon being the strongest signal most of the time until it faded around 9AM, the Mt Gambier signal remaining audible but weak for a little longer. My log notes that VK5RSE was still audible at 2305 UTC, or 10AM local time. At that stage the Adelaide signal had vanished.  With these beacon signals received so well, how about making some contacts into those areas?

I then worked Bill VK5ACY at 1922 UTC (6:22 local) vk5LA at 1939, vk5AKK at 2006, VK5PO at 2008, VK5DK at 2109, all on 144MHz.  I also worked Vk5AKK on 432.

Much later at 2150 I was called by VK5PJ on 2m while beaming to Sydney direction (NE) and made a good contact with Peter on that band, followed by working him again on 432 MHz, still with the beams NE.  Turning the beams around to the west produced signal levels of S9+20 (indicated) which is a rare event on 70cm dx.  Peter asked whether I had 23cm and I told him that regrettably my real antennas were at home and all I had was a temporary lashup to make local contacts.  He was keen to try it given the unusually good propagation we had on 70cm.  We tried 23cm first with Peter running a series of dots, so I tuned for that signal on the Sub receiver on the IC910 and could tell him “yes I do hear that, I will send the same to you”…  and the outcome was a good 5 x 1 contact on SSB.

Back on our “liaison frequency” 432.160 where signals were still s9+ I told Peter what the antenna was.  “It’s a 2m quarter wave lying on the roof of my tent”.  He asked for a photo…I took the following photo immediately while still sitting at the desk talking with him.

Note the precise calibration of the angles.

horizontal 9/4 wave antenna
horizontal 9/4 wave antenna

Here is what it looked like from the outside.

Tent roof antenna
Tent roof antenna. Note the centre boom and the supporting spines all aluminium. the antenna received best signal on 1296 when at 45 degrees to those tent supports.  Adelaide is close to the direction of the centre boom.

I then asked him to run the beeper again so I could try to optimise the orientation or location of the antenna.  I tried vertical and horizontal polarisation in various orientations.  Eventually I returned the antenna to its original position where by good luck, the signal was best.  You would not read about it.

Later at 2223 I was encouraged to give this antenna a try working VK3ER where Peter VK3QI was keen to make the contact.  And yes it did work, even on ssb.  In the past we have made contacts with my real antennas but sometimes it has been quite difficult, cw-only.  Clearly propagation was unusually good between us.

A later attempt to hear or work Gordon VK3EJ at Cobram was unsuccessful.  Whatever atmospheric effect was allowing these longer distant signals to reach Mt Ginini was not active for the shorter distance to Cobram.

This is where the 1296 yagis would normally go… just below the 70cm yagi on the mast.

2m and 70cm antennas.
2m and 70cm antennas.

Summary: 145 or so contacts, some ordinary and a small number of extraordinary contacts, coinciding with very hot daytime weather and a calm morning.

Once again the beacons were a great indicator of the possibilities ahead.

As my brother Chris VK2DO pointed out, it looks like the many tickets purchased in the “field day lottery” over the past 20 years have finally paid off and I have certainly been rewarded with some great fortune this time.  If only I had my real antennas for 1296, and how about the higher bands?  Will never know, can only continue to take tickets in the lottery and hope it doesn’t take another 20 years to produce results.

Mt Gingera on 1/1/2014

The first day of January has a special appeal to SOTA activators as it offers a chance to gain points for two years for the one activation.  To optimise the points available, a 10 point summit was preferred.  For the summits within VK1, the most accessible 10 point option is Mt Gingera, south of Mt Ginini by a few km and an access track along the side of the range.

Previous activations of Mt Gingera by Ian VK1DI and Andrew VK1NAM had indicated there was a 6km walk along the forestry road, followed by a 1km climb to the summit.  I decided to try using my pushbike for the road section, leaving the bike at the start of the climb.

As the summit is a very good VHF location I wanted to try 2m SSB contacts to the NSW south coast, Sydney area, operators in the Victorian alps, as well as the Canberra area.  To do that I decided to take a 3 element beam for 2m.  This was a beam I had built for direction finding competitions in the 1980s and had since used occasionally for portable operations.  All aluminium construction and unfortunately, not readily able to be dismanted.  I planned to attach the beam to my backpack while riding along the road, then to carry it by hand while climbing the hill.

That approach worked ok after some adjustments needed while walking the bike up some of the steeper sections of the road.  Hills that you don’t notice in a car can quickly add up to a lot of work on a bike.  Despite walking several sections, I still averaged 9km/h over the 6km which is double my walking speed so using the bike saved at least 30 mins, possibly more.

Having left the bike near the road at the foot of the path leading up to Gingera, I carried the beam in one hand up to the top, diverting around trees and bushes as required.  At the top I found a suitable location for the antennas and equipment on some huge rocks and got onto 2m ssb quickly, as I needed to qualify the summit with at least 4 contacts before 0000 UTC.  Having done that with contacts to VK1NAM at Tuggeranong Hill, VK2DO at Batemans Bay, VK1FJAW and VK1KW in north Canberra, VK3EJ in Cobram, I was able to take a pause and set up the HF antenna.  About 30 contacts in the log for the activation.

Photo Gallery:

VK1DA operating the radio
VK1DA operating the radio
mast held against the rock by some tension from an elastic strap
mast held against the rock by some tension from an elastic strap

IMGP0563

 

Ginini seen from near the top of Gingera
Ginini seen from near the top of Gingera
After racking the bike, this pic showed how I carried the squid pole, Al mast for 2m beam and the beam itself.
After racking the bike, this pic showed how I carried the squid pole, Al mast for 2m beam and the beam itself.

Activation of Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037

I got on the air just after 6pm in time to make a s2s contact with Matt 1ma who had started to descend his last summit for the day. He kindly offered to turn around and go back up so we could have the contact.

Then I looked around 20m for signals to get an idea of what the band was doing. Some good sigs from EU so I looked at 14062 and made a cq call. Nil reply so I tried responding to a strong EA on 030. He barely copied me and did not give me an RST report and did not respond to requests for same. Lot of qrm.

A Few other qsos followed on 030/1 and 062. About 6 or 7 contacts but quite low signal reports. I will configure the vertical differently next time.

I had wire for four radials but only put two out because I was operating from a site with a lot of other people walking up and around me. I didn’t want to create a trip hazard for them. One of them said she had seen radio people up there before.

After walking back down chatting to Matt on his way back into Canberra from the northwest area he had been activating, I went to the radio club meeting where Dimitris vk1sv gave a presentation on the ANU ion accelerator.

Vk2 SOTA summit list submitted

The list of proposed summits for the vk2 call area has been submitted to the SOTA Management Team in the UK and we now await feedback and questions, followed soon after (hopefully) by approval for vk2 summits to be used for SOTA activations.

The summit count is about 1100. We had included a small number of summits in more than one region and a few are on the vk4 border so will have to be assigned to one state or the other.

I’m expecting the review and approval process to take a month or so but we won’t know until we get there.

In the meantime vk2 activators need to test their gear, get fit enough for the hills they intend to climb and register with sotawatch.org to be ready for a big kickoff day. I am hoping to get 20 vk2 activators on the air on day 1. Will you be one of them?

SOTA activation at Mt Stromlo, Canberra – 22nd March 2013

I was running late for this activation and had not been up to the mountain for quite a few years.  In fact I had not seen the level of destruction by the 2003 bushfires, I might have postponed seeing that because I had heard and read about it.

The mountain has a restaurant on it which is apparently open at night.  There are sometimes stargazing events open to the public.

Access to the summit is limited by a security gate which is closed to uphill traffic at 6pm.  That gate is a fair way down from the summit so if you can go a bit further uphill it will save a lot of walking.  I parked just below the gate and walked from there.  It took me about 25 mins to get to the area I operated from, which was on the side of a fenced water reservoir.  I only used 7 Mhz ssb and 14 MHz CW for this activation.  I had about 10 contacts on 7 Mhz and then about the same number on CW on 20m, including contacts into Germany, Finland, the UK and New Zealand.

Signal reports received on 20m were low and I need to improve my signal strength on this band.  I have a few ideas I need to try out.  The best simple low antenna for dx contacts is a vertical, but it needs an effective ground radial system to be efficient.  I am probably going to try using 3 elevated radials, about 1m above ground.  The squid pole is a good support for the vertical radiator and as it only requires 5m of vertical radiator, the radials can be almost 2m above ground, further reducing ground losses.

On this activation I found I was being attacked by mosquitoes especially once it got darker.  I had not had trouble with these on earlier activations and my fellow SOTA activator Andrew VK1NAM also had lots of mossies on Black Mountain this evening.

No photos as I got there too late.

Closed down after the contact with ZL1KLP at about 7:45 local time, quite dark by then. Have to make the most of daylight saving while we still have it.  DST end date 7 April 13.

I have disabled comments as I was receiving no comments from fellow amateurs but dozens from spammers with automatically generated inane comments and links to irrelevant and usually offensive websites.