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Mt Tantangera VK2/SM-024 activated on 10th December 2016

I was invited to join in an activation of Mt Tantangera by Andrew Moseley VK1AD, and was very pleased to be able to join him in this expedition.

Andrew collected me from my weekday accommodation in south Canberra at 7:30am on a brilliant summer’s day that Saturday morning.   We decided to take both our packs to give us the option of working on several bands simultaneously.

The route taken was through Tharwa, south of Canberra, along Boboyan road until it meets the Snowy Mountains Highway between Cooma and Adaminaby, but only a few km short of Adminaby.  The trip through the mountains took us past familiar scenery, Mount Tennant just after Tharwa, the Clear Range to our east, the turnoffs for the old Orroral Valley and Honeysuckle Creek tracking stations, including various SOTA summits like Booroomba Rocks, then past Boboyan Range and Pheasant Hill.

After 2 hours we arrived at the Rocky Plains camping ground.  We prepared for the walk to Mt Tantangera, adding sunscreen, hats, packs with water and food, antenna poles and navigation details.

Track up from Rocky Plains camp ground
Bush view to the side of the track
Track easy to follow
View to the south west while en route to Tantangera
bushland
Andrew VK1AD stops to take a photo too, sometimes!
A track marker showing 1km to the summit – a welcome sign

Many of the horse riders camp at Rocky plains and some even set up temporary areas for their horses to roam in, with temporary electric fencing.  The initial climb up to the saddle is steady and follows a bridle trail.  Some hoof marks are apparent in the soil as you climb upwards.  The condition of the soil was damp but firm.

On arrival at the summit, a very wide flat area, we found the trig point was ideal for attaching a pole to.  Initially we set up our equipment and antennas expecting we would be able to operate the two stations on different bands.  However I received wideband noise whenever Andrew’s FT857 was transmitting.  I decided to move my equipment about 30m away, assuming it was a proximity problem and a bit of spacing would help.

That did work ok, so it was then time to get onto the bands and hand out some reports.  The bands did not appear to be in good condition.  I made relatively few contacts considering the exotic nature of the summit and its SOTA value of 10 points for anyone making a contact.   I decided to use CW mainly so as to give the CW operators a contact, and I knew we would swap bands later so Andrew would be operating on 40m ssb.

I made one contact on 20m CW, then 6 on 40m CW.  One S2S contact was also made with Ian VK1DI at Booroomba Rocks on 2m.  One of the photos taken was of a March Fly (aka Horse Fly) of which there were many.

March Fly
Station setup (photo: Andrew VK1AD)
Lake Eucumbene in the distance

Thanks to Andrew for offering to share this activation.  While band conditions were less than ideal, we had a great day out in the snowy mountains region and enjoyed our walking and radio operation.

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.

VK1 SOTA party 2nd August 2015

The SOTA party on 2nd August was almost washed out, with all night rainfall and rain continuing in the morning.  By about 8am though, there was some sign of the rain easing for a while.  Some of us decided it was too risky as we are generally not prepared to operate in the rain, but others decided to activate though not on the original sites.

I changed from my planned activation of Castle Hill to Mt Stromlo.  A retreat could be made from Mt Stromlo within 15 minutes whereas at Castle hill it would take more like 30 minutes or more to reach the car, including packing time.

I originally set up on 6m and was about to set up the 10m antenna when two things happened. First I heard Dimitri VK1SV/VK2COW operating at his new home location near Gundaroo on 6m so I had to log contacts with him.  Then Mark VK1EM arrived on site, so we organised for him to make the 6m contacts that were available.

The linked dipole went up then, giving us 10m coverage.  ALthough not all originally planned activations were on the air, enough were on to keep us busy, with Mt Ainslie (AC040) operators including Marcus VK3TST and Paul VK1ATP, Adan VK1FJAW was at Black Mt (AC042) using 2m fm only (and having trouble with overload in his Baofeng), Roald VK1MTS and John VK1JP were at One Tree Hill (AC035).  Then Grant VK4JAZ arrived on Mt Ainslie and it must have been bedlam on that site.

After struggling to make his contacts on Black Mt, Adan decided to join us on Stromlo and was soon there, making his contacts on 2m and 10m.

In among this a few spots turned up on 40m so the antenna was changed over to 40m to work Tony VK3CAT, then a spot turned up on 10m showing Gerard VK2IO, so the antenna was changed back to 10m, but although I even rotated the dipole to favour that direction better, I could hear nothing of Gerard.  Should have tried CW.

Finally as lunch time approached, so did the dark clouds so we packed up quickly and were being lightly rained upon by the time we reached our cars.

In something of a compensating operation for the cancelled activation on 2nd August, VK1NAM has alerted for a 3 summit day on 9th August.  I am planning a 3 summit day too, activating two of the same summits and another different one.  Aiming for 10m/6m contacts on each, so hoping for fine enough weather to let it happen.

In addition, there will be a combined VK1/VK2 focussed SOTA QSO party on Sunday 30th August.  Already, interested VK1/2/3 activators are making plans.  Why not join in?  VK4/5/6/7/8 activators would be welcomed with many potential contacts…

Goorooyaroo Nature Reserve, VK1/AC-036

Reviewing the track logs stored in my GPS I found the track log of my walk up to the less frequently activated summit in the eastern end of the Goorooyaroo Nature Reserve in the ACT.  It is north east of the Canberra Airport and is slightly controversial due to it including a now disused military firing range.  There are signs within it indicating unexploded ordnance, suggesting shells or even bombs may be lying dormant but still dangerous.

However the VK1 SOTA group was advised by the NSW Ranger who drives a 4WD vehicle along the service track, that as long as walkers stick to the track they will be safe.  So after a cautious start, this summit was eventually activated by several of the regular activators.

I visited it myself in January 2015 and the path is shown here.  Access is via a track (dotted in the image below) off the Sutton Rd between Queanbeyan and the Federal Highway.  Park near a gate with signage indicating no entry to unauthorised persons.

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The walk to the summit took about 20-25 mins, it is a fire trail and easy to follow.  Stay on the path!

My activation of this summit was marred by very low performance of the antenna – later discovered to be due to one side of the dipole not being connected.  But I got my 4 contacts…

 

South Black Range and Mt Gillamatong

South Black Range is accessed by first driving to Hoskinstown (via either Bungendore or the Captains Flat Rd) and turning east along the Forbes Creek road, which after you cross Forbes Creek (I think) becomes the Mulloon Fire trail.  About 10 km east of Hoskinstown, you find the North Black Range fire trail heading left (north) and you proceed somewhat more slowly along that trail for about 2km,  until you see an even lower standard track heading left up to the summit.  At that point you might easily park and walk. It would be less than 1 km to the summit.     

I found the Mulloon fire trail in good condition and ok for a 2WD.  The North Black Range trail was muddy in parts, slippery and the steep bits would be a challenge for a 2WD and the Forester with constant 4WD (but no low range) only made it up some of the steeper slippery bits after backing down and having a bit of a run up.  Last time I came along there I was in the FJ Cruiser and I may have used low range but didn’t remember it being this slippery – but that was in September so there’s the answer most likely.

Along the trail you see some interesting sights including this remmant of someone’s history.

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The radio activation, oh yes, that’s what I came for… I took two squid poles with me and used one for the 6m coaxial dipole.  This has a coax-based choke at the lower end of the dipole, and another choke a quarter wave below that.  The second choke was found to be a very useful addition keeping RF off the outside of the coax.

Several 6m and 10m contacts were made back into Canberra and then a session on 40m filled the log.  This location is within the Tallaganda NP.  The antenna used on hf was the usual linked dipole.

The weather on this summit was occasional rain drops and cold wind.  When I got back to the car the outside air temp was 4C.

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After activating South Black Range I headed east along the Mulloon fire trail and passed the turnoff to Mt Palerang. The creek was about 200mm deep, as a guess. the Forester went through it quite ok, slow speed and stay in 1st gear. Keep the bow wave ahead of you, don’t try to overtake it…

I removed a few minor trees from the road along the way.

After passing the Palerang trail I continued east to Braidwood. Within a few km of the Palerang trail there was a more substantial tree lying across the road. I had no saw. I looked at ways of snapping off upper branches, found it was too green and I didn’t have any way other than a long period of sawing with my swiss army knife. So then I looked at driving over it where others had. It looked like the Forester had enough clearance so I drove over slowly. Hopefully someone better prepared, with a chainsaw or at least a bush saw like the one at home in my shed, will have cut it up before anyone else goes that way.  Note to self: put the saw in the car before setting off next time.
When I got to Braidwood I took a right turn to get closer to Mt Gillamatong on the western side. There is a gate on the road into the paddock so presumably that is the track marked faintly on the GPS leading up to the summit. It looked like a longer walk from there – but without the rocks. Might be worth considering another time. The road is called something like saleyard lane. It joins up with Gillamatong lane around the eastern side of the mountain.

After leaving the car at the top end of Gillamatong lane, going through the gate with the very makeshift catch, you walk along to the south staying at about the same altitude. Then there is a locked gate into the cow pasture but just before the gate, the track leads around uphill and to the right on the north side of the fence. At the top of that fence there is a small gate. This seemed new and different from last year. A fence along the contour line is then slightly uphill but if you walk back northwards you come to where a tree has fallen on the fence making it easy to step over it. From there it is a zig zag path to the top, with lots of slip risks and I think using two squid poles as walking poles did help on a few occasions. I went a bit closer to the towers this time, I saw one tower and thought I was close enough, then I realised I could also see several dishes and another tower. At that point I sent a text to Andrew VK1NAM telling him I was onsite and setting up.

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During setup I had several issues with the dipole including pulling the adaptor apart by lifting the pole while standing on the coax.  Amazing how a sloping floor puts all your normal instincts at risk.  But finally I was on 10m with the IC703 calling VK1ATP who was portable on Black Mt in Canberra.  Then Matt VK1MA and Andrew VK1NAM followed.

On 40m the propagation had turned to nighttime long skip and conditions were marginal for close-in contacts.  No contact for VK1NAM, a marginal contact on CW with VK2IO (who I worked last time I was on this hill, but he was on a summit in France that time!) and it was a surprise and a pleasure to work Warren ZL2AJ mobile in the north island.  Warren will be the Association Manager for SOTA in New Zealand.  He commented that the survey process is well under way.

Finally I tried to work Andrew VK1NAM on 80m.  I could hear him well enough but my signal back to him was too low.  I need some extensions to my linked dipole to resonate it on 3.5 mhz.

I walked down in the dark, about an hour after sundown, using a headlamp. Again the poles were great and provided necessary stabilisation on the rather steep, slippery and rocky slope. I was retracing my steps with the aid of the GPS and I ended up right on the fence crossing, which was a great relief.
The highlight last year was an S2S with Gerard in France. This year I didn’t use 20m at all, as I was too late for the grey line propagation on LP into Europe. And it hasn’t been all that good this winter. Closer to the equinox it will improve a lot.

VK1 SOTA 2nd anniversary 1st Feb 2015 at Mt Stromlo

In 2014 the VK1 SOTA group proposed a BBQ and joint activation at Mt Stromlo on 1st Feb, to celebrate the first anniversary of SOTA in VK1.  On the day the weather was very hot and the event was called off.

This year the group again decided to have a BBQ at Mt Stromlo, with a joint activation to provide contacts with the summit.  The plan was to have either a lunch or evening BBQ and set up a few antennas to allow the group to make radio contacts.

Towards the weekend, it was clear the weather this year was not going to be hot, instead it was likely to rain during the afternoon.  Several of the group were unable to make it due to conflicting social engagements so the remaining hopefuls decided to make it a 4pm start and hope for the best re the weather.  That turned out to be a mistake as the weather was moderately clear during the day but towards 4pm it looked more like rain every minute.

23cm band

I had borrowed a 23cm fm mobile rig from Compton VK2HRX who was keen to get chaser points for 23cm and was visiting Canberra that day.  So I wanted to make at least a few contacts on 2m FM and on 23cm FM. On 23cm the simplex frequency is 1294.0 MHz.

I arrived on the mountain earlier than 4pm and spoke with Paul VK1ATP on 2m FM soon after.  Simon VK1FAAS emailed the VK1 SOTA group suggesting it looked like a cancellation was going to be necessary and I agreed with that as the weather certainly did not support the event we had hoped for.  However after some initial thunder and rain visible to the south, it appeared that the main body of rain had passed us by, so I decided to set up the 23cm antenna and the borrowed 23cm fm radio. Paul had arrived on summit by then and was able to observe the 23cm contacts.

After making 3 contacts on 23cm I was looking for a 4th contact so as to qualify the summit on that band.  I monitored 2m fm in the hope that someone would call me there offering a contact on 23cm.

HF contacts

With the rain apparently having passed and no apparent imminent thunderstorm, I decided to put up the HF antenna and see how badly the bands were affected by the nearby storms.  At this point Paul was tempted to do likewise, but after considering his wife and kids he decided against this and departed, wishing me well on HF.

Once I got the antenna up, 40m sounded ok and after I fixed my antenna (again), prompted by Matt 1MA who thought I was not strong enough at his location about 10 km away, I made 19 contacts on 40m including an S2S (summit to summit) contact with Kevin VK3KAB and Glenn VK3YY.  During this period the rain started in earnest and I covered myself as well as the radios with a second tarp.  Weird sitting in the rain under tarps talking on the radio.  Why didn’t I take a tent…

The radios under the tarp.  The logbook with wet pages.  It was only just legible the next day for typing up the log. Radios under the tarp

20m and 12m, ssb and cw

Running out of contacts on 40m I then decided to look at 20m and higher bands.  At this point I also decided to send an email to the VK1 mailing list asking (begging) for anyone with 23cm gear to call me on 146.5 as I wanted a 4th contact on 23cm.

Having moved the HF antenna to 20m by disconnecting the two links I spotted myself on 14.310 and called cq, which resulted in 3 contacts into South Australia (VK5).  I did not receive further replies so I looked higher in frequency.  On 24.9 MHz I heard a strong KH6 (Hawaii) calling CQ on CW and I thought I should at least try a contact.  I received a good (579) report from the KH6 which was great as the antenna was still linked for 20m.

The 4th contact on 23cm

Before finishing the KH6 contact I heard Jayson VK1JA calling me on 2m fm.  I asked him to stand by a minute while I completed with the KH6.  When I went back to Jayson he said he was receiving me well and wanted to try 23cm.  We then made a good contact over about 15km to his location in Tuggeranong.

After completing with Jayson I removed the 12m link on the HF antenna and made another contact on 24.9 MHz CW with a Japanese station.  These dx contacts were completely unspotted as I was answering their CQs. Their power levels were most likely at least 100 watts or 10 db more than my IC703’s 10 watts, and possibly even higher.

As an anniversary event it was a fizzer but I got some satisfaction from making the 4 contacts on 23cm and handing out some points to SOTA chasers.  Also gained some S2S points from working VK3KAB and VK3YY.

 

SOTA feeding frenzy 1st Jan 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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The FJ Cruiser shown on top of an erosion barrier

 

 

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.

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Andrew VK1NAM relaxing into some contacts at Mt Cowangerong

 

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VK1DA at Mt Cowangerong

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.