During our trip to England in June 2016 I planned to activate several SOTA summits.
Having arranged to activate several hills in the Peak District I thought this would be a simple matter of driving to my contact’s house, collecting him there and proceeding to the parking area at the base of the hill, then executing the well rehearsed process of activating a summit. This was not to be and I wasn’t able to carry out that plan. But with only a few days left in my England visit, I thought there may be another opportunity coming up when we were staying at Leeds. I asked Mike 2E0YYY, with whom I had talked from Australia on dozens of occasions in the past few years, for advice on which summits would be achievable for someone with somewhat limited mobility. He immediately offered not only advice on the summit but said he would drive up to Leeds and activate the summit with me. An offer I could not refuse.
Mike duly collected me on the morning of 20/6 and we headed out past Bradford, through a hundred small villages and through lanes narrow enough to be converted into wind tunnels for aircraft experimentation, passing within millimetres of other vehicles and I was reminded of how good it was to have someone else doing the driving.
Arriving at the car park at the approximate activation time, I had poor phone coverage and could not update my alert. Mike cheerfully said, no problem, we’ll be there soon. Walking up the stone pathway in my rainproof pants and jacket, I could only hope the weather stayed fine enough to setup and operate for a while. Mike said the light rain we were walking in was nothing to the tropical rainfall he had driven through that morning. I hoped it had gone in another direction.
Onsite at the trig we set up my 10m Dxwire pole and my home made linked dipole on 20m. I decided to use my FT817 given how much effort it was to bring the radio and other gear. The pole was guyed using the guying ring made for me by my good friend Adan VK1FJAW in Canberra, on his 3D printer.
Starting on CW mode with the 5w from the 817 I made the first four contacts in relatively slow conditions with only a few callers each time I called CQ or QRZ? But after the fourth or fifth contact, more and more callers came back, so I eventually had about 20 contacts on CW without having to move frequency or do anything heroic. Several S2S contacts were included, so nice to work people like HB9BCB and others with big signals in Europe instead of hearing the somewhat weaker signals from the other side of the globe.
After making another bunch of contacts on 20m SSB we decided to try 40m. We made a few contacts there but generally it was not as productive as 20m. My morse paddle cable seemed to be intermittent and would only work correctly with the paddle placed on top of the radio. I was unsure whether it would last the distance if I continued on CW. I had intended to operate on CW on at least 20 and 40m, and had also taken a 6m antenna to try that band. Given the occasional short distance contact on 20m it seemed there was some sporadic E occurring and I may have had some fun on 6m. However at that stage I was happy enough to have activated the summit successfully and I did not want to risk stressing my sore foot. So the 6m band was never attempted.
In summary, I am very grateful to Mike 2E0YYY for going to so much effort to help me activate in England. It was very good to make contacts with some of the SOTA crowd that I had worked many times from home in Australia. Amateur Radio again shows itself to be a magic ingredient for a tourist.
The Wyong field day is a major hamfest held at Wyong every February, with equipment exhibition and sales, a flea market for used equipment sales, a seminar room and supported by food and refreshments.
I have visited this event every year of the last 10 and have usually looked at the new equipment, passed through the flea market, sometimes buying something unique and desirable (such as the 3 element 6m yagi I bought one year) but mostly just catching up with friends who I often see only at this event. Some I never hear on the radio these days but they turn up at Wyong in February.
Having decided in advance to activate several summits on the way to Wyong, Andrew VK1AD (ex VK1NAM) and I set out from Yass at about 9am and reached the parking area in the vicinity of VK2/SY-002 Riley’s mountain at about 12:30, having stopped for coffee on the Hume Highway.
The walk from the carpark to the summit was signposted as 2.6km each way or 5.2 km for the round trip. The track through the forest was in good condition and the forest was green and healthy, with chirping birds the only sound breaking the peace apart from the noise of our boots on the gravel and dirt track. After about 30-40 mins steady walk we found a sign pointing left labelled “Riley’s Lookout”. Taking the side path we were soon standing high above the Nepean River enjoying the view of the forest and river.
Considering where to set up our radio gear to activate this rather nice location, we decided to walk the 50m or so back to the main track and set up there, using the sign as a support for the antenna pole. In no time we had the antenna up in the air, the radio connected to the antenna and power and the microphone and key paddle plugged in.
We posted spots on SOTAWATCH to be sure chasers and other activators looking out for S2S contacts knew we were on the air and where to find our signals. A good session of contacts ensued with reasonable signals into Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, as well as some closer contacts in various parts of New South Wales.
One of the contacts made was with Marek OK1BIL/VK2 who was operating at Mt Alexandra with Compton, VK2HRX. We met Marek at Wyong the next day and had a good chat with him.
Leaving Riley’s mountain after about an hour of operation, we headed northwards to the Great Western Highway and then towards Sydney, onto the Newcastle freeway and eventually turned off the highway near Ourimba, to reach Mt Elliott VK2/HU-093. Again this was a very pleasant and easy place to operate from, with picnic tables, expanses of grass inviting sevevral poles supporting antennas. Here we used a 20m quarter wave vertical on one pole and a linked dipole on the other. On 20m we made a few CW contacts into Europe and some into other parts of Australia. Conditions were not good enough on 20m to make long distance SSB/voice contacts.
Shortly before sundown we closed down and made our way to Wyong where we had booked accomodation for the night (two months earlier, or more). We had a meal and some cool drinks at Panarotti’s at Tuggerah Westfield.
In the morning I woke early and decided to observe the International Space Station’s pass which was almost directly overhead. I lost sight of it to the northeast when it was over New Caledonia according to the tracker. It was brighter than most other things in the sky apart from the moon.
At the Field Day there was a good collection of second hand goods for sale in the flea market, some new items but it was strangely quiet in the corner where one of the larger traders usually is found. At the VHF seminar, some discussion about the rules for VHF/UHF contests prompted me to make some unplanned comments about operating practices in these events, specifically about the practice of callinq CQ, making all contacts and listening all on 144.150, which many field and home stations appear to do. A straw poll of those present revealed that while a number of people operated in that event, only a small number of them had made contacts into VK1, only 250km away from the Sydney area. I suggested that this was due to being stuck on the calling frequency and it would help everyone to make more contacts, make more points in the contest and increase activity if they could move to other parts of the band during these events. Let’s see whether a direct appeal to the operators has the desired effect. I wish the contest rules did not specify a calling frequency.
We departed Wyong at about 12 noon and headed homeward. After a lunch break at Pheasants Nest we continued to the turnoff for Mt Wanganderry, VK2/IL-003. Setting up there we were able to make contacts on 40m using SSB and CW, we did try 20m without any success. This was a new summit for us both.
Although I had operated from this site in June 2015 for the VHF field day (and the 6m contacts counted towards the SOTA 6m/10m challenge) I was hoping to increase my “unique callsigns worked” count by operating from this site. It has a good lookout towards the Sydney area and on a clear day you could probably see the big smoke, if that makes any sense.
So I took my IC703 for its 10w of power on 10m, and the FT817 with its 5w on 6m. The antennas were a vertical half wave on each band. The 6m antenna was in the form of a coaxial dipole with the lower end terminated by a resonant choke in the feedline, sometimes called a flowerpot vertical after the mounting method chosen by one of the people popularising the design. (VK2ZOI)
The 10m antenna was lent to me by Andrew VK1AD, who had two similar versions. It is a half wave fed by a tapped quarter wave coaxial line, usually called a J pole. The tap point is at a position where a good match is found to 50 ohms, and the top end of the quarter wave is a reasonable match to the bottom end of the half wave. This arrangement works fine for low power.
Matt VK1MA had been onsite during the morning and was just packing up when I arrived. We chatted about conditions and how the bands were working, then Matt headed off to his next summit which was Mt Gibraltar on the other side of Mittagong.
So at about 2:30pm I started operating at the Katoomba lookout point on Mt Alexandra. With several 6m and 10m contacts made during the afternoon it was productive if a bit slow. One of my strategies for finding new contacts was to call on 52.525 FM which has some following in Sydney. I did make one contact that way, but probably did not have enough signal level for the average mobile in Sydney. Calls via the 6m repeater seeking simplex contacts got no replies.
On the ssb end of the band, there were several responses to my CQ calls on 50.150 which is supposed to be the calling frequency within VK. I did call cq on 50.110 and got one reply, and we moved up the band a bit to leave the calling frequency clear.
On 10m FM I did hear a Japanese station but my 10w was not making the grade back to him. The most fruitful mode was ssb on 10m, where I did work several vk4s as well as some Sydney area stations.
I had arranged with my wife to meet her in the car park at about 6pm. So at about 5:30 I started to roll up cables and put the gear into the backpack.
Walking down a steep section of the track back to the car, I managed to put both feet onto slippery surfaces at the same time, resulting in a probably very funny sight, with me falling backwards onto my backpack, and in the process flinging my hands out and back, to “break my fall”. That was not a good move. It didn’t break my fall but came close to breaking a bone. My right wrist was in some pain and I sat on the ground for a minute or so before I could get up and resume walking.
I had fractured the radius bone in my right arm, quite close to the wrist. I ended up being treated by the emergency ward of the hospital the next day, then discharged with my arm in a cast and 6 weeks of relative inactivity ahead.
I can only think about the many times I have been much further from my car or another driver, yet have climbed up and down rocky paths and gravel roads without any mishap. But any of those places could have produced a similar result. A sobering thought.
So that ended my activations in the 6m/10m challenge a week earlier than I had expected.
I am now temporarily writing (and sending morse) with my left hand. My handwriting is not pretty (and my morse is tentative and slow). I count myself lucky though – this could have been worse. But my wrist will mend and I will have the use of it again. Incidents like this make you appreciate having two arms and hands.
After the diamond quad experiment at Spring hill for the 10m contest and the 6&10 challenge, I planned a series of minor activations that were intended mainly to just add another summit to my activation list on 6&10m.
So an activation of Goorooyaroo, east of Canberra, followed on 15th December. It was a joint activation with Adan VK1FJAW and we used 10m to obtain one new unique worked station, plus some contacts on 6m. During this activation the coax plug on the feedline for the 6m antenna disintegrated and I had to restore the connection temporarily using a BNC-binding post adaptor, which I had in my parts box, along with pliers, connectors and kitchen sinks.
Mt Gingera for New Year’s Day
There was a gap of several weeks until the end of December, when Adan and I made the trek to Mt Gingera, VK1/AC-002. We parked at the base of Mt Ginini and then rode our bikes 6 km to the final ascent point to Mt Gingera. The long uphill trudge between the car park and the hill just before Prior’s hut was the main challenge of this trip. I rode the bike for part of this.
At the summit we decided to operate from a grassy area just to the north of the trig point. Adan set up his 10m antenna and made a few new uniques on that band, and I attempted to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 2m and 6m, without success. Having no phone coverage meant I had to count on others to spot me. Chris was looking out for spots on sotawatch and seeing none, assumed we were not yet onsite.
6m gave me a few vk1 contacts but was not open to more distant points so was quite disappointing. A contact on 2m with John VK2YW at Wagga gave me some hopes of working him on 6m, but while I could hear him he could not hear my signal at all. I had taken the IC706 in the hope that having more power would help with contacts. After a couple of hours in the hot sun, and it was over 30C that day, I was finding it hard to keep any enthusiasm for doing any more of the same. Adan felt he had worked all that were available on 10m so was ready to head back to the car.
The consolation for the unproductive 6m was that at least we had qualified the summit both before and after 0000 UTC, which meant qualifying it in both 2015 and 2016. 40m was poor that day, with unreliable propagation due to recent solar events.
Mt Tumorrama, Billapoola State forest
A week later I headed out to the Bondo state forest between Tumut and Brindabella, to activate Mt Tumorrama VK2/SW-027 and a hilltop in the Billapoola state forest, VK2/SW-034. The second activation was made using the ft817 and with the 10m antenna mast held up in my hand. Not ideal, but it was raining and all I wanted to do was make 4 contacts and get out. Fortunately it was possible to work into Canberra on 10m.
Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053
At Mt Mundoonen on 15th Jan gave me some new uniques on 6m and 10m. I used the diamond quad on 10m and the half wave vertical on 6m. I operated from the small sun shelter, and the impression you get in those things is a reduction of about 10 degrees when you are in the shade. They have a good SPF rating. Makes operating outside in summer more comfortable and a lot safer.
Webbs Ridge, Dingi Dingi, Baldy Range
A few days later I also activated Webbs Ridge, Dingi Dingi ridge and Baldy Range in company with Adan VK1FJAW, Tony VK1VIC and Grant VK4JAZ. It’s always a good day in the bush with friends, lots of laughs and plenty of talk about antennas, how much power Matt and Mark run, etc. 🙂
Mt Coree VK1/AC-023
The activation of Mt Coree was with Adan after work one day. It was a calm clear day, visibility was excellent and the sunset was impressive. To add to that there was a 6m opening to VK5 and some 10m contacts into VK4 plus one contact into Indonesia.
Bald Mt, Big Badja (fail), flat tyre
On 22nd January I drove down to Bald Mountain SM059, intending also to activate Big Badja however en route to the second summit the weather turned and I decided not to travel down the forest trail. I thought I would go to Mt Cowangerong near Braidwood and decided to head north to do that. On the way a storm blew through, with tropical level rainfall and hailstones, lasting about 30 minutes and giving way to a steady rainfall.
Postponing the summit until after lunch I called into the bakery at Braidwood for a coffee, a pastie and an apple pie.
Suitably refreshed I drove the car up the main street and found the steering pulling to the left so I knew I had a flat tyre. Pulling into a parking spot 100m north of the bakery, I set about the job of changing the tyre. I called off any more forest trips, though no doubt the nail or screw in the tyre was picked up in the street at Braidwood rather than in the forest. Quite a long day for one activation as I got home at about 6pm.
Yankee Ned and Snow Gum Mt
Four days later on 26th January I returned to Yankee Ned Hill VK2/SW-026, making a few contacts on 10m, 6m and 40m. There was no cooperation from 6 or 10m and the only contacts available were with VK1 “locals”. Then I drove east along Brindabella Rd, leaving the sealed section for several km, then heading north east along Nottingham Rd to reach the road junction at the base of Snow Gum Mt VK2/SW-028. This is a short hill climb on foot, taking me about 20 minutes. Again some 10m and 40m contacts qualified the summit for general activation points as well as adding it to my 6/10m summit list.
Mt Cowangerong VK2/ST-001
On 28th January I decided that the weather forecast for late afternoon storms was not going to be right, so headed out to Mt Cowangerong to add that to the 10m log. My first contact was with Dale VK1DSH, which was quite promising as he was using a general purpose doublet and his FT817. Four other contacts on 10m were made with Canberra operators, but the band was not providing any interstate contacts. The rain I drove through at Captains Flat threatened to resume in more serious form so I packed up without trying 40m. The lightning crashes on 10m were strong enough to be a worry.
Mt Majura VK1/AC-034
On the second of February I activated Mt Majura VK1/AC-034. There are two well defined tracks up this one, both departing from its foothills in the suburb of Hackett. I have used the.more northerly of the two, thinking it looked shorter, however it seems to take longer so perhaps it is steeper and slower. Contacts made: a handful of locals on 10m, 12 on 20m CW and 24 on 40m ssb.
Mt Ainslie on 3rd Feb
An after-work activation and was fortunate to make contact into Japan as well as with several local 10m operators, plus several contacts on 20m CW.
The next activation was to be my last for the 6m/10m challenge. A separate post will be written for that one…
How would you find a new source of unique callsigns for your 10m log? Operate in a dx contest.
The ARRL 10m contest ran for two days of the weekend of 12/13 December 2015. I decided I would operate on 10m on one of the contest days.
I arranged to operate from Spring Hill, using the IC703 at 10 watts. I had a 10m dipole and a quarter wave vertical that could be used for this event. To give me another antenna option I decided to cut and tune a diamond quad for 10m.
The quad is a full wave loop, closed at the end opposite the feedpoint. The conventional square quad is fed in the centre of one of the horizontal legs, usually the lower end. By rotating it 45 degrees you have a diamond quad, a square with one apex closest to the ground. This format has a great advantage for a backpack station, as it can be made using wire, with the outer corners held in place with guys. The wire antenna is simply attached to a stock standard squid pole (aka telescopic fibreglass fishing pole). I used a 7m pole and located the feedpoint about 1.8m above ground.
I used insulators made from chopping board plastic. One was required for each corner of the loop, the top and bottom being used to attach the loop to the pole and the two lateral corners being points where the guys were attached. I was unsure whether guying those points would maintain the loop in the right shape but it did seem to be ok. If the insulators slipped along the wire, the guy would have to be attached to the pole at the top of the loop.
Matching the quad
The feed impedance of a loop is in the region of 100-120 ohms depending in the height above ground. To feed this antenna with a 50 ohm line a transformer is required. I decided to use a quarter wave of 75 ohm feedline, using the impedance transforming behaviour of quarter wave feedlines.
The transformer action is given by the formula ZL/Z0 = Z0/Zi
or Zi/Z0 = Z0/ZL
where Zi is the input impedance of the quarter wave feedline, ZL is the load impedance and Z0 is the impedance of the quarter wave transformer/ feedline.
For a quarter wavelength of coaxial cable the length required is the free space quarter wave adjusted for the velocity factor of the cable used. Most solid dielectric coaxial cable has a velocity factor of .66 and the cable I used was of that type.
The “free space” length of the quarter wave transformer was 300/28.4/4 = 2.64m approx. This length needs to be adjusted to account for the velocity factor, so our final length is 2.64 x 0.66 = 1.74m.
I had a “video cable” of almost that length so I set up the antenna with the 75 ohm section connected to the feedpoint, then connected a short 50 ohm (RG58) extension to the radio. The antenna displayed a reasonable SWR of about 1.2 on 29.4 MHz so I had to add some wire to the loop. the difference in a full wavelength at 29.4MHz and 28.4 MHZ was about 400 mm so I added that length to the loop. The SWR then was optimum at 28.4 and acceptable (1.5) at 28.0 to 28.8 MHz.
After testing and adjusting the antenna at home, I rolled up the wire and its guy ropes, ready for deployment on the hill.
How did it work?
Quite well. There was a very strong sporadic E propagation in the first few hours of operation from the hill, giving excellent reports from VK5 and VK4. This was very encouraging and I made steady progress in my log, handing out contest numbers to those who wanted them and giving others the SOTA summit code.
I later set up my standard linked dipole and was able to compare the quad loop with the dipole. In some directions the dipole received and transmitted stronger signals than the quad, consistent with the orientation of both antennas.
I did find that during the afternoon, signals from Japan were more consistent on the quad than on the dipole.
As for my unique callsigns score, I did make enough contacts to add 28 new uniques. I had hoped for more, but conditions were just not good enough for contacts into the USA and that was a factor. Still, the antenna experiment was fun and worth doing.
Although I had activated this summit earlier in the year I wanted to get it into my log for the 6m/10m challenge. So when an opportunity presented itself, with VK1AD on Mt Ainslie for an S2S, I packed the gear into the car and headed off towards Binalong, which is the nearest village to Bobbara hill.
I forgot how much longer it would take to walk up this hill in the heat. It was about 30C when I left the car and by the time I was half way up I was confident it had risen to 40. I finally reached my operating position after 45 mins of climbing and set up a shelter for the radio and the operator as the sun was still very strong. Getting into the shade of the shelter was a huge relief. I erected the squid pole with the linked dipole, which worked well.
I started on 10m and had contacts with three Canberra stations, Matt VK1MA, Andrew VK1AD and Ingmar VK1BGT, who was kind (and keen) enough to drive up to Dairy Farmers Hill, just west of the Tuggeranong Parkway near the Scrivener Dam. I could hear him faintly as he talked to Canberra stations en route, but when he got to the top of that hill near the Arboretum, he was finally able to hear me, albeit weakly. I also had a call from Roald VK1MTS on the repeater who said he had listened for me but not heard me. He is located at the eastern border of the ACT so it was a long haul for a tropo contact on 10m especially with only 5w from my transmitter.
I then called cq for a while further on 10m, on both ssb and on cw, without success. I changed the antenna over to 20m, finding that one of the links could not actually be reconnected, so I was unable to go to 40m as planned. I repaired the link later at home, crimping and soldering a new connector (spade lug).
On 20m I heard not much activity on the ssb end of the band but I spotted myself on 14.062 and called cq for a while, netting VK6NU, VK4RF and several Europeans who were excellent signal strengths.
I am convinced of the advantages of these shelters in hot weather. Just need to sort out a good way of carrying them. The bag has straps which are not really much use when you are already carrying a back pack and walking with a squid pole. I can’t use a HT while all that junk is occupying my hands so I don’t usually run the HT while walking to or from a summit. Having a better operating environment is very good in hot weather.
I hoped this activation would allow me to add some new unique callsigns to my stations worked list for the 10m part of the 6m/10m challenge. I used three new pieces of equipment for this activation.
First, the antenna. I thought my inverted Vee dipole could be improved upon for long distance contacts (DX), so I cut a quarter wave vertical with 4 radials as a trial antenna. It seemed to work very well and I heard and worked stations in Japan and the USA without much difficulty despite using 5 watts from the FT817.
The base of the main vertical element was at about 1.5m above ground, with the radials sloping down to ground level but insulated off the ground by small lengths of hootchie cord. The main radiator element was taped to the squid pole. It was actually the lower half of the 20m vertical I have used for several activations on that band. I simply cut it at half its length, then crimped a set of spade lugs onto each half. Thus, a linked vertical. I should probably do the same for the radials.
Signals from some of the Japanese and US stations were indicating s9 on the strength meter of the 817. What I found was that it was necessary to call the louder stations, sometimes several times, to make contacts. I did have a “run” of about 5 contacts on 28.052 where I called cq for about 15 to 20 minutes at one stage. But to really attract attention you need a big signal and mine certainly wasn’t big.
The second new piece of equipment was a sun shelter, kindly bought for me by my wife, who worried that I would get badly burned sitting in the sun on hilltops.
And the third new item for this activation was the guying kit that Adan VK1FJAW made for me, complete with 3D printed guying ring that sits right on the top of the first segment of the Haverford 7m squid pole. With guys about 2m in length, the pole was as stable as if it was tied to a fence or a steel stake. I’m very pleased with that one, Adan!
After working about 25 stations on 10m CW I decided to take a break from the pressure of the contest speed (about 22 wpm in my case but some of them were running somewhat faster). I pulled down the squid pole to put up the usual linked dipole set to 40m. Then I found I was almost the only SOTA portable on the air, apart from Greg VK1AI who I could barely hear. The parks weekend was in full flight, with a dozen or more portables workable at various locations around NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
After the break on 40m ssb I decided to have a final listen on 10m and after removing the 40m dipole and feedline, I made a few more contacts on 10m CW.
Final 10m cw contact count was only 28. More power and an even better antenna next time!
Amateur Radio, Computing and other activities of Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH