WWFF activations in the Canberra suburbs

Canberra is known to many as “the bush capital” and this means there are a lot of nature parks interspersed among the suburbs and hills.  The only National Park in the Australian Capital Territory is Namadgi, which is southwest of the city area, but there are several dozen other nature reserves.  Once they had been given VKFF numbers by the WWFF coordinator for Australia, it became a natural extension of my portable operations around Canberra to add the VKFF number of a park I was in while activating SOTA summits.

After activating Majura, Ainslie, Taylor, Isaacs Ridge and Tuggeranong as well as Namadgi NP many times due to the number of SOTA summits located in registered parks,  it seemed like a good idea to continue to activate parks in the spring weather we are now enjoying (November) between rain showers (it has been a very wet year).

In October and November to date I have activated Urambi Hills, McQuoids Hill, Cooleman Ridge, Farrer Ridge and Wanniassa Hills Nature Reserves, all in the Tuggeranong Valley or adjacent to it.  The next reserve activated was Mt Painter nature reserve.

All were easy to access, and for the hills you have the option of setting up anywhere within the reserve, not necessarily on the hilltop, though in several cases I was curious to look at the view from the top and did walk up anyway.   I was also using these activations as training exercises as I was acutely conscious of losing some of my fitness for SOTA walking due to various injuries during the year.

The operating position at Urambi Hills.  Photo taken by camera attached to the antenna pole at about 1.2m.

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At Tuggeranong Hill

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The nature park sign at McQuids Hill.

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Looking back down the hill from half way up.  Loose stones, take care here, especially downhill.

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Almost at the top, McQuoid’s Hillimgp2041s

Operating at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve

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Lashing the pole to a fairly dead tree.  Using the branch to prevent the rope from slipping downwards, just as F1BLL calls me.

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Plenty of wildlife like this mother carrying a baby at Farrer Ridge

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I particularly enjoyed the walk up to Mt Wanniassa, which qualifies as a nature reserve but is not a SOTA Summit.  Nearby Isaacs Ridge is slightly higher.  But this is a nice mountain and has a great view.

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After these southside nature reserves I looked at the map and decided that a northside reserve was next.  Mt Painter is a hill to the south of the suburb of Cook in the Belconnen area.  It was many years since I visited this hill and it was an easy walk up from a roadside park, past the water reservoirs and to this bench with a view of Black Mountain and the lake.imgp2106s imgp2107s

 

On most of these activations I made at least 10 contacts in about an hour, using 40 and 20m bands on SSB and CW.  I was hoping for more dx contacts on 20m CW but conditions have been depressed, so it is even more difficult than usual for a 10 watt signal to get all the way around the earth.

Gerard, F1BLL did call me on most of these activations and even when very few others seemed to hear me in Europe, he heard and called me. Thanks Gerard, very nice to have your consistent signal on nearly all of my recent activations.

Another Gerard, VK2IO, attempted contacts with me from Sydney on many of these activations but the radio conditions simply didn’t give us a chance of making a contact via the very high ionosphere.

Equipment used on activations: Icom IC703 at 10w output.

Antennas:

  • linked dipole capable of operating on any band from 40m to 10m
  • vertical antenna for 20m, 5m vertical and three 5m radials, tuned to 14.200
  • antennas supported on a 7m telescopic fibreglass pole.

As all the nature reserves are intended for public use, there is no requirement to get permission to enter and use them.

 

Pheasant Hill, sota vk1/ac-021, south of Canberra

After activating Boboyan Range successfully the week before, I wanted to grab a few winter bonus points before they ended.  Pheasant Hill is located west of the Boboyan Road, almost at the southern border of the ACT(VK1) with NSW (VK2) in southeastern Australia.  It is in ecalytpus forest country and is 1455m above sea level.

So on this Saturday morning I drove along Boboyan road to the parking area of Brayshaw’s hut (dating back a hundred years or more) and hiked westward through the forest with the sounds of nature around me.
About 20 minutes in you pass this sign

Map and information about the area
Map and information about the area

After turning to the north and heading up the hill the forest is thicker in places.

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Forest views

 

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Path faintly visible

Finally I reached the summit area and found a suitable clearing with a handy tree stump for one of my poles.

I used one pole for the linked dipole which can be used on any of the 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 or 10 metre bands.  The other pole supported the 6m vertical and a 2m dipole offset from the pole on a short length of 19mm PVC conduit.

Vhf antennas
Vhf antennas

Conditions on the bands were not bad. I made 4 contacts into New Zealand (ZL) on 20m, several “local” contacts on 2m FM back into Canberra using the dipole mounted at about 3m above ground.  Only one contact on 6m, with VK1MA.

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Radio and camera operator

Originally in our sota summit list this one was named Pleasant hill, but that was corrected later.  As Ian VK1DI remarked after first activating this summit, it is indeed a pleasant hill.
I was tempted to stay there longer but the wind was rising and I didn’t want to be caught in rain. So after about 2 hours I packed up and headed home.

Approaching Brayshaw's Hit from the west
Approaching Brayshaw’s Hit from the west
One of the direction markers close up
One of the direction markers close up


Summary:

Contacts:

Band Contacts
50 MHz 1
144 MHz 6
432 MHz 1
7 MHz 17
14 MHz 5
21 MHz 1

Walking distance: it took me about 45 mins to reach the summit from the car park.  The return trip was a bit faster.

Permissions: not required – it’s in the Namadgi National Park and day trips are automatically OK.

Round trip from southern Canberra – about 120 km.

Short activation at Mt Gillamatong vk2/st-034

A surprise invitation to a trip over to Braidwood with a bonus of “you can walk up that hill if you like” resulted in a short activation on Monday 24th October.

The climb up the eastern slope is always interesting, it presents a 3 dimensional challenge of not only climbing the bit in front of you, but also getting you to a place that will be easier to keep on climbing with a minimum of blockage by trees, rocks etc.  The rocks are big ones.

Eventually I arrived at the summit and found a clear area near one of the compounds containing an apparently disused dish staring pointlessly at a position in the sky.

I had enough time for a handful of contacts on 40m ssb and then packed up and headed down to where my patient wife was happily reading a book.

Sotagoat app on iOS – workaround for “alert” time error

The SOTAGOAT app is a well presented and popular app for iOS and works well on my iPhone 5s and the iPad.

Its features include displays for alerts and spots, just like the sotawatch.org website, configuration options allowing you to choose between UTC and local time for displays and posts, an option to produce a goat bleat when each new spot is received from sotawatch, a filter option to specify which modes you want to be informed about and the time periods in which you want the notifications and bleats to occur. It uses an internal list of summits which can be updated from a sotawatch site and can display a list of summits near to your current location, which it gets from the GPS info in the phone or tablet.

However, the current (2016) version of the app has an error in the time calculations for new alerts. Sotawatch uses UTC dates and times. I have sotagoat set to display and post in UTC.  But the times posted and seen on sotawatch were always incorrect and I observed that they were incorrect by the UTC offset. The app was adding my UTC offset to the UTC times I wanted and then posting the adjusted time to sotawatch.  I have found the error can be worked around by adjusting the alert time as follows.

When posting an alert I subtract my UTC offset from the alert time.

For example to post an alert for 2300 UTC I subtract 11 hours (in DST periods) or 10 hours (in standard time) and post the alert for the adjusted time, namely 1200 UTC.

This is easy for UTC times after 1100 but for earlier times, the date must be adjusted back too. It’s simple arithmetic you can do in your head. For say 0400, subtract 11 hours: I do that by one of these two methods:

  • First subtracting 4 hours to get back to 0000, then subtracting the remaining 7 hours (because 4+7=11) from 2400 to get 1700.
  • Add 24 hours to 0400 (2800) and subtract 11 hours from that (1700).

In each case, because the time is in the previous day, subtract one day from the date too.

What if I was in a time zone that is behind UTC instead of ahead?

I don’t know whether the software error treats both time offsets similarly. It is possible that it is correct for negative offsets.

The error has been notified to the author of the software but as it can take a while for new versions to be released via the iTunes Store, I will use this workaround until it is fixed. The utility of the application is too good in all other ways to stop using it.

SOTA QSO Party 22nd October 2016 at Bobbara hill

My station setup for this event was later than planned.  My original summit was to be VK2/ST-042 and to get access a phone call to the owner of the access road is usually all that’s required.  However after two phone calls getting a voicemail response and no callback, I decided to go to Bobbara Hill, just west of Binalong, although that required a longer walk time as well as an extra 20 minutes of travel time.
Once I left the car, opened and closed the gate and starting to walk along the track leading to the hilltop, I was surprised by the wind strength even on the valley floor.  As I climbed further I found the wind was even stronger on the hilltop.
I started setting up in the eastern side of the hill which happily allowed me to avoid the wind, but when I lifted the antenna pole up into the wind it was being blown around so vigorously in the turbulence that I decided it had no chance of surviving in that position and I moved everything further around to the east side of the mountain.  More delay.
Finally I got on the band and called cq on cw, then worked 12 contacts, many being S2S.  I tuned around for ssb activators but apart from Don M0HCU didn’t hear many.  I did call some but lost out to Europeans.  Looked for Ed DD8LP lower in the band where he was spotted but nothing there.  Twice the pole collapsed mid-contact.  Very difficult especially on a slope and in that wind.
I forgot to spot myself but while the contacts are coming you don’t need more qrm.  I have a 250 hz filter in the 703 but that wasn’t narrow enough to sort through the signals at one stage.  Have to say my sending was affected by the unseasonably cold temperatures, not sure exactly what the temp was, but less than 10C, possibly down to 6C or so by the time I finished.  Others were making mistakes too.
Found the tablet was ok for logging but on cw it is tricky to log an incoming call as it happens.  Pencil and paper are easier for that…
Bobbara Hill looking west
Bobbara Hill looking west
Bobbara Hill SOTA setup
Bobbara Hill SOTA setup
I worked 12 contacts, DL3TU, VK4BJS, HB9FVF, OK2PDT, DL3HXX, DL4CW, HB9DQM, OE5AUL, CT7AGR, HB9AFI, JP3DGT and M1EYP just after sunset. Thanks to all.
The surprise was to finally work Tom M1EYP as my last contact and then I looked up and realised the light was fading fast so I packed up.  Walking back down the hill, I was in near darkness as I approached the car half an hour later.
The next morning I received an email from CT7AGR, Portugal, a very nice message thanking me for the contact.  I was just relieved to make the 12 contacts I did including 8 as Summit to Summit (s2s).
 Update: received another email re the S2S contacts.  S2S are the most desirable of all the sota contacts.

Using the Wifi hotspot from an iphone for the android tablet

I was having some trouble getting reliable linking to provide the android tablet (a Lenovo Tab3/7) with internet access while on hilltops or in parks.

A bit of research found a lot of wave-away-the-problems type of solutions, which didn’t solve it at all.

Finally I discovered a comment about the type of hotspot that the iphone actually provides.  It is not an infrastructure type but an adhoc hotspot.  And more to the point, it does not advertise it continuously.  It only advertises the hotspot for a limited time after being enabled, or after you visit the Personal Hotspot option in the Settings menu.

After some experimentation I now find that the tablet happily links to the iphone every time, provided I go to the Settings > Personal Hotspot item in the iphone and then wait about 10 seconds.  Nothing else needs to be done, provided the wifi password has been set in the tablet.

The other solution I have used from some hilltops is to take a personal hotspot device with me.  As my phone provider uses a provider that does not have as good coverage as Telstra, this provides my tablet with excellent network coverage from places without any service on the other network.

Here’s a pic of the hotspot lashed to a tree on the Boboyan Range summit, 40 km south of Canberra.

 

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Telstra hotspot, tree mount variety.

VK1DA in England at SOTA summit G/NP-028

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.

Andrew VK1DA (L) and Mike 2E0YYY (R) at NP028
Andrew VK1DA (L) and Mike 2E0YYY (R) at G/NP-028

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.

Amateur Radio, Computing and other activities of Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH