Arising from reports of plans to use AM and CW modes on ANZAC Day (Australia’s day to honour their fallen from the armed forces), I proposed using AM for an activation, asking for chasers to also use AM.
This was taken up by Andrew VK1NAM and Adan VK1FJAW, so on the evening of 1st April (note: after midday, therefore not a joke) I activated Black Mt VK1/AC-042, Andrew Vk1NAM activated Mt Stromlo VK1/AC-043 and Adan activated Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037. I made my first call on 144.3 AM, to receive a loud and clear signal from Adan. We then moved to 29.1 MHz and repeated the contact there at similar strength. Adan had already made contact with Andrew 1NAM so I decided to check out 7 mhz as there was a spot on sotawatch.org for VK2IO on 7.180. Sure enough on that frequency Gerard was there with a strong signal and before long I had my second AM S2S.
I then moved to 7.195 where Andrew VK1NAM was spotted, increasing the tally to 3 x S2S AM contacts. He said he had made two pages full of contacts and was ready to try another band. So I stayed on 7.195 to make more contacts. I filled a page of my log and it was quite nostalgic hearing AM signals with the fading and phase distortion as the two sidebands selectively cancel each other. (This is due to fading being highly frequency selective, the phase changing across the band.)
I went back to 144.3 and made a contact with VK1NAM there and also just for fun, on 52.2. Signal strengths were excellent.
Following that I noticed a spot for VK1FAAM on Mt Ainslie (VK1/AC-040) on 144.3 AM. I called him without success, then Andrew sent a text message to him saying don’t close down, there is another s2s available. So he came back on 144.3 and that made my 4th AM S2S contact for the night.
While some may have thought this was not a serious proposal, it was received very well, many home stations tried AM on 40m for possibly the first time and I received a number of favourable comments about the idea.
Afterwards we discussed the possiblity of making that day an annual AM day for SOTA. Whether or not that happens, this exercise showed that activators on ANZAC day (25th April) will be able to make contacts on AM mode with some of the special event stations set up for this 100th anniversary of the event at Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915.
Equipment used. FT817 running 2 watts output, antenna was a linked dipole for HF and for 6m and 2m a dipole nominallly cut for 52 MHz, which worked quite well enough for local contacts on 2m as well.
After battling the rain the previous Sunday at Mt Stromlo, I looked forward to this activation at Spring Hill.
I was encouraged by the contacts made from Mt Stromlo on vhf bands and on 23cm so I wanted to try that again from Spring Hill, which is a few km north of Hall on the Northern edge of the ACT.
Access to the site needs to be arranged beforehand. I had texted the owner Phil but had not received a reply so before entering the land I phoned him to check. He said he had seen my text, there was no problem and he wished me a pleasant walk. I think in the past I have spoken to him several days prior to the site visit, then as requested I have texted him to let him know I was on the hill.
At the road level there was a very mild breeze, but the further I climbed the higher the wind became. When I reached the point where the track is exposed to the east the wind blew my hat off and continued to rise. At the top it was hard to stand up so I decided to operate from the lee side of the compound where there was some concrete and a steel mesh fence and almost no wind, though the acoustic noise created by the wind on the tower and dishes was quite loud.
The vhf and UHF antennas went up first and I made contacts on 50, 144, 432 and 1294 fm. I didn’t make enough contacts on 1294 to qualify the summit but the contact down south to Jayson vk1ja was a good distance and signal levels were quite good. The mobile whip worked well in horizontal mode. S2S contacts were made on 52, 146 and 439 MHz with Andrew VK1NAM on Mt Majura.
For 50/52 MHz I used a wire dipole supported by the squid pole. Later I took that antenna down and set up the 40m antenna to make a handful of contacts before I had to pack up and head back down. I closed down at 8pm 0900 UTC, took about 10mins to pack the gear and arrived back at the car at about 8:50.
The track is steep in sections and has many loose rocks, making the downhill walk quite slow and tricky. Anyone planning to walk down in the dark needs a headlamp for safety.
Equipment next to the compound fence on Spring Hill
The 2m and 23cm antennas attached to the mesh, a nice gp. No propagation any direction but south and south east. This is the southern side of the compound, out of the wind.
The bend in the squid pole due to the wind
Equipment next to the compound fence on Spring Hill
Alerts published on Sotawatch late in December 2014 had given some indication of how many activators were planning to visit summits on the morning of 1st January 2015 and it looked like being a busy day.
To make best use of this opportunity, Andrew Moseley VK1NAM and I decided on Mt Tumanang, coded VK2/SM-049, south east of Canberra and south of Captains Flat. Neither of us had activated this summit before today so we were hoping to gain not only the S2S points from working other activators from this summit, but two sets of activator points, being 2014 in UTC prior to 11AM and 2015 afterwards.
The trip was planned and marked on Andrew’s GPS so we would have some knowledge of distances and some warning of major turns needed within the forest. I left home at about 6:15 to collect Andrew at 7:30. About an hour to the Cowangerong fire trail turnoff on Captains Flat Rd and in another hour we were parked on the fire trail at the foot of the ridge extending north west from the summit. The walk up to the summit was in typical southeastern Australian eucalyptus forest. The walk only took 20 minutes or so. We set up just to the east of the trig station and decided to set up one rig on 40m and the other on 20m. In addition we used the 40m antenna on 6m.
After making several surprising contacts on 6m, one to Gerard VK2IO at Mt Eliot near Gosford NSW, and another to Paul VK1ATP at Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026, we ventured onto the 40m band to see how conditions were.
Prior to 0000 UTC each activator was keen to score as many s2s points as possible, so many chasers probably missed out on contacts during this period. Each cq call was greeted with several S2S responses and priority was given to S2S, as this is the day when activators are out there to fish for S2S and are keen to make best use of the time.
For the next two hours it was frantic on the 40m band all the way up to 7170 where we found it was possible to provide contacts for chasers, but only for a few contacts at a time until other activators found us and requested priority.
Eventually we decided to move on to Mt Cowangerong, which we had passed on the way to Mt Tumanang. It took about an hour of quite slow travelling with 4WD-low engaged for some of the time. The erosion control humps on the road vary in size but some are big enough that you don’t really know what’s on the other side.
The photo does not really show the size of the hump. See similar photos in the account by Mark VK1EM. The FJ cruiser has plenty of clearance and is probably a little shorter than Mark’s Pajero so the angles of these erosion barriers did not pose any problem for us.
At Mt Cowangerong it was somewhat more subdued, though we still earned and handed out many S2S and chaser points.
Overall a great day for some SOTA operation on HF, some surprise contacts on 6m and fairly low conditions on 20m and above. While we did hear one VK6 station, signal levels were very low and we had no luck in being heard despite a sked lined up by VK5PAS.
I know some operators are not keen on these big activity days. But they create a big splash on an otherwise quiet band and give many people a chance to earn some new points, new unique summits worked and a boost to the S2S tally. I think my own S2S tally increased by over 270. Given that i was hoping to reach 1000 by the end of 2014 and was very pleased to do so (something that took almost 2 years to achieve) I was stunned to see my S2S score rise by 27% on one day.
We wanted each of us to be able to make all the s2s contacts possible, so we needed the equipment to be closely located. That meant some interference between the two radios, both emitting wide band hash whenever transmitting. We will need to consider alternative layouts if we want to operate simultaneously in future. The obvious method is to separate the equipment widely and that would normally be the case with each of us using different bands. On other sites we have been able to operate on different bands with a separation of 20-30m and we know that other joint expeditions have managed to even operate on the opposite ends of the same band, one on ssb and one on cw.
Thanks again to Andrew VK1NAM for his guidance, navigation and good humour during the day.
Mt Tennent is a prominent mountain at the southern end of the Tuggeranong valley in the Australian Capital Territory. It is visible from the Barton Highway 40km away. It is very visible from my office building in Tuggeranong but I had never climbed it. Its reputation was for being a tough, long walk and a steep climb in places.
The mountain is 1384m above sea level and about 750-800m above the average level in the Tuggeranong Valley. Access for bushwalkers is from the Namadgi Visitor’s Centre carpack just off the Naas road, several km south of the village of Tharwa. The length of the walk is 6.5-7 km each way.
Andrew VK1NAM had planned this trip several weeks earlier and invited me to join him, knowing that I had not activated this summit or ever climbed this mountain. After several changes due to household plans for spring gardening work, I was able to confirm I would join him and I even did some training – several trips to the gym this week included some sessions on the stepper. Ha! some training that was… should have just gone down to the mountain and got serious about it!
So we met at 7:15 am at the Namadgi Visitors Centre and set off across the road and onto the walking path. After a few mild hills along the path, several creek crossings and even one of the dreadful downhill sections (which I dislike because I know that means I have to climb some distance twice) we came to the rock stairs, which accounted for over 1km and about an hour of the climb. Andrew referred to this as Stepper 101, but afterwards I considered it was 301 or the master’s course. About the first 10 minutes may have been equivalent to what I had done on the stepper at the gym.
Here are some photos of the upward trip.
After the stair climb and some easy sections we arrived at the fire trail leading to the top of the mountain. This section was endless and steep going in parts. Finally we were at the summit where there are several buildings housing communications equipment for various emergency services.
I set up the 20m vertical on its squid pole and looked at conditions on 20m using the FT817 on 5w output. Andrew VK1NAM set up his linked dipole and wanted to try 10m dx hoping for contacts into the USA. We both found that radio conditions were unusually quiet with few long distance signals audible. On 10m the best contact was to VK6 (Western Australia) with Anthony VK6MAC. On 20m I made 5 contacts, into VK4 (Queensland), VK5 (South Australia) and VK6 (Western Australia).
Having found 10m so quiet Andrew reconnected his 10m link and went straight to 40m where a number of “local” chasers were keen for contacts (mostly in VK2 New South Wales and VK3 Victoria).
The view from the top speaks for itself. Other pics show parts of the descent.
Again thanks to Andrew VK1NAM for his guidance, good humour and being willing to wait while I caught up. My walking/climbing pace is not quite his. Another great day in the bush and on a summit.
Timings: the upward trip took just over 3 hours and downhill took a bit less. The rock stairs can’t be rushed, for safety reasons.
To support the anniversary activity for SOTA in VK2 I activated three VK2 summits on 6th September.
South Black Range, summit code VK2/ST-006 was first as it was the quickest to get to from my home in Yass. I left home just after 7am and drove to Murrumbateman, then via the Gundaroo road to Bungendore, then to Hoskinstown south of Bungendore. From Hoskinstown I took Forbes Creek road for about 10km until reaching the South Black Range forest trail. The track up to the summit is at about 1200m ASL and heads approx westerly. It is quite narrow at first but opens out gradually. I parked my car about half way up to the summit and proceeded on foot.
There is a huge granite boulder at the summit and I guess surveyors considered that to be the real top of the mountain so they placed the trig point and a summit cairn on top of the boulder.
I set up slightly north of the boulder and soon had my antenna up and the radio buzzing with signals.
It was shortly before 0000 UTC so I ran through the chaser list very quickly, making sure everyone calling had a chance to put this summit into their log for the 5th Sept UTC. Then the same process after 0000. I tried 20m after running out of chasers on 40m. The only contacts made were with VK1 home stations – noticed a spot stating that I could not be heard in northern NSW. At that time I had not yet transmitted on 20m but after I had made a few local contacts, there were no other calls, so clearly conditions on 20m were not supporting longer distances at that time.
After completing the radio operation I packed up and then took a few more pictures of the rock and the forest as I walked back to the car.
A very old ladder, possibly a relic of the original survey placement, was rotting on the ground next to the rock.
I placed my squid pole, about 1.2m length against the rock as a contextual measuring stick. maybe I should have extended the squid pole to its 7m length as a better measure. Something for next time.
Contacts made from this summit: 57
After returning to the “main road”, a gravel forest road, I wanted to use forest roads and trails to Mt Cowangerong, summit code VK2/ST-001. This took me longer than I had expected, the condition of the forest tracks was wet and slightly muddy in places. I was taking my time and not trying anything heroic. Possibly a better map would have made this a quicker trip, however I was enjoying driving a car with better clearance and with 4WD capability.
At Mt Cowangerong I decided to set up on the north side of the weather radar clearing. I had experienced some interference on 40m when operating near the compound last year, so wanted to see whether keeping further away from the building reduced the interference. The spot I chose was just after the power pole you pass on the track up to the summit, several hundred metres short of the compound and about 20m off to the north east of the track, in a clearing of sorts there. I could see the tower through the trees, though my photos only just capture the tower base. This position was very quiet and I had no noticeable interference.
Contacts made from this summit: 35.
After this activation I returned to the car where it was parked down the track, headed to Braidwood and had a welcome cup of coffee with a hot pastie and a danish pastry. There I decided I could still activate Mt Gillamatong, VK2/ST-034 before dark, so I posted an alert on SOTAWATCH for a 20m operation.
My radio friends Andrew VK1NAM and Ian VK1DI had both activated this summit. From the town it looked quite prominent with steep sides. The descriptions of their activations mentioned that it was a steeper climb than they had expected. They are not wrong.
It took me about 30 minutes to get to a point near the top, I estimated about 10m lower than the comms building, so it was within the activation zone.
I set up the 20m vertical and checked SOTAWATCH for activity. I eventually worked a number of European stations including some activators on SOTA summits, which I was very happy about. Also worked Gerard VK2IO on a summit in France. This was done using my IC703 running 10w output.
I heard several other VK activators, working Andrew VK1NAM at the noise level, but was unable to hear VK1MBE who was in the Northern Rivers area of VK2. Others worked included Mike 2E0YYY, always an enthusiastic contact.
Contacts made: 18, including several s2s contacts in Europe and one s2s with VK1NAM. 10 ssb contacts and 8 CW contacts into Europe.
Finally I packed up at about 5:30 local time, 0730 UTC, as it was getting noticeably cooler and I could see that the sunlight was fading as we moved towards sunset. I was on the eastern side of the hill so sunlight was fading even faster.
I got back to the car just before 6pm and was able to SMS my wife and to Andrew VK1NAM, telling them I was back in the car and about to set off home.
The trip home from Braidwood to Yass was about 1H40.
Some pics from Mt Gillamatong.
Total contacts for the day, 112.
SOTA operation is a unique combination of portable operation based on backpacked equipment and antennas, with all power from battery or solar sources. It is nearly always a pleasant experience to operate a backpack radio station from a hilltop.
I highly recommend it as an antidote for the suburban interference blues, a condition endured by many amateur radio operators making it problematic or impossible to operate from the typical suburban block.
See the links section of this blog for information about SOTA world wide and SOTA in Australia.
For the first anniversary of SOTA in VK2 (Australia – New South Wales), a weekend of VK2 SOTA activations is planned for the 6th and 7th September 2014. The usual Sunday activations that are popular are made complicated for some by the coinciding Father’s Day on the first Sunday of September. We might have to celebrate VK2 SOTA on the preceding Sunday in future.
In the past year VK2 has seen 728 activations of 228 summits. Not a bad result for the first year.
About 250 extra summits are under review for addition to the VK2 Summits list. This will fill in some gaps left by our initial survey in 2013. Corrections to a few summit locations will also be made as well as summit name changes. More details when the process is completed.
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.
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.
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
video camera (optional, usually left at home)
* radio joke. Barefoot normally means using a radio without any external power amplifier. In this case the radio and the operator were barefoot. 😉
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.
Mt Lowden is numbered VK2/ST-002 and is located to the east of Rossi in the Southern Tablelands of NSW. Location details at http://sotawatch.org/summits.php?summit=VK2/ST-002
October 13th had been nominated as VK2 SOTA QSO Party day. I was hoping for a busy morning on the radio with activators and chasers looking for contacts. As Mt Lowden attracted an 8 point score we would be a popular find on the bands. We would probably make most of our contacts on 40m but expected a few contacts on 30m and possibly 20.
I left Yass at about 5:45 and could see wisps of mist above the rivers and dams but there a clear sky and it seemed a typical spring day in the southern tablelands as I drove towards my meeting place with Andrew Mosely VK1NAM at Queanbeyan. I stopped just on the edge of Canberra for a quick breakfast and a takeaway coffee. Arriving at the spotlite carpark at 7:05 I saw Andrew’s Skoda Yeti (the sotamobile) so we were soon on our way along the Kings Highway, the Captains Flat road then other connecting roads leading us past Rossi and along the Lowden Forest Road. We first overshot the turnoff up to the Lowden Trig Firetrail, but after correcting that mistake we drove up Lowden Trig Firetrail until reaching the junction with Bald Hill firetrail. At that point we found one of the tyres was mostly deflated and we changed it over for the spare and inflated that. Assumed that one of the sharp rocks strewn along the firetrail had damaged the tyre wall.
The walk up to the comms tower on the lower part of Mt Lowden was easy enough with a few rocky sections and some muddy lower sections. Walking from there to the summit was more difficult, no path, no well formed track, not even the wildlife had established paths to this peak. Some “nasty spiky” bushes as per Ian’s description (http://vk1di.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Mt%20Lowden) and plenty of rocks and fallen trees to negotiate.
As we reached the activation zone, grid locator QF44SL we contacted Glen VK1FB on Mt Gingera, VK1/AC-002 on 2m FM at locator QF44JK. A distance of 68 km according to my iphone app DistBear. Not bad for 2m hand held radios – without repeaters!
After setting up a 40m dipole I got on the air and started working through about 30 contacts. A second antenna was also set up with a coax switch we could use to switch between the two antennas quickly. A/B tests were done periodically and reports were received on the two antennas. Antenna B was consistently rated better. We think antenna A was too close to the ground and too close to trees. Received signals were slightly down compared with the other antenna. More tests to be done on another occasion.
On 2m Andrew VK1NAM had been calling cq on 146.5 FM and on 144.2 SSB. He made 5 contacts, then ran a few contacts on 40m looking especially for S2S contacts.
At about 0045 the band went fairly quiet and while the CW net still seemed to be running down on 7025 and below with good signals, the ssb signals seemed to be absent. A final cq call received a response from a vk3 at good strength but his signal disappeared on the next over, going right down below the noise level. Some ionospheric disturbance must have occurred around that time.
No activity was heard on 10 or 14 Mhz, though signals from JA were heard on 21 CW and 28 CW.