Tag Archives: portable

Combining “QRP Hours” contest with WWFF activation at Mundoonen Nature Reserve

After a failed activation of this reserve a few weeks earlier I wanted to get some contacts for this reserve into the log.  The QRP Club’s QRP Hours contest on 22nd October 2017 seemed like a nice opportunity.

I set out from Yass about 45 minutes before the contest start as I had a good idea of where I would operate.  On site I found I had to be satisfied with a sloping site and I put up the usual linked dipole with all links connected, giving 40m operation.  I decided to use the MTR3B CW transceiver for the CW section of the event and use the FT817 for the SSB section.

The MTR3B transceiver’s principal characteristic is its compact size and low power usage in particular on receive mode where it is about 40 milliamps, about 1/10th of the FT817.

Radio, battery, logging tablet and paddle
The MTR3B (blue), its battery (yellow), the log (red cased Lenovo tablet) and the paddle (American Morse DCP, on leg) as used in the CW section of the event

 

However the inability to conveniently and rapidly browse across the band looking for other stations calling CQ is a limitation for contesting I had not really considered before.  Nevertheless I persisted with it to try and find a way to use it best.  I had not yet used the Direct Frequency Entry function and I really needed that, so I could jump back to a starting frequency.  Also I had not recorded anything in any of the text memories.  So during the contest I opened the LNR website and read the instructions for storing text into one of the memories.  The obvious thing to have recorded for quick playback is the CQ call.  So at least I achieved that during this event!

During the CW section I made 5 contacts but of those only one was within VK2 and that was with Mike VK2IG, who with partner Helen VK2FENG was portable in another WWFF nature reserve, not far away from me, but far enough to sound distant.  No AGC or even AF gain control on the MTR3 – I have a volume control in the ear buds lead. Other contacts were with VK3, 4 and 5.   There was no “normal” NVIS propagation.  Very pleased to have worked Warren VK3BYD/5 somewhere in the middle of South Australia, and Grant VK4JAZ who was operating from home in Brisbane.  QRP is a combination of frustration and achievements.

After a half hour or so, I got a reminder that I was operating in a nature reserve, in the form of a sudden downpour of rain that became hail for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately I had suspected rain was imminent and had erected the “sun shelter” shortly after the start of the event.  But the slope of the operating location meant icy rainwater was running downhill and under my seat, a small foam sleeve sold for protecting computer tablets and small laptops.  Before long the whole site was wet and cold and my clothing was drenched from the waist down.

The SSB section commenced at 0600 UTC (5pm local) and after working Helen VK2FENG nearby, Laurie VK5LJ and a few more, I ran out of potential contacts.

At that point, a lull in the rain seemed to have arrived so I decided packing up and leaving would be prudent.

Half an hour later I was enjoying a very welcome warm shower at home.

Fortunately my log is not important for the QRP Hours contest other than a check log, as I am the contest manager.  I’m glad I was able to add a contact to a few other logs and in the process I did activate the WWFF park, though with insufficient contacts to qualify for any activation points.  That’s ok, this park is near to my home and I will return, hopefully in dry weather.

VHF/UHF Field day/contest Jan 14/15 2017

The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events.  I have had some great surprises on these weekends.  I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.

I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night.  Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds.  I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.

This is how far I got setting up on Friday night. After this, the wind came up and the rain and sleet started.

The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind.  In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car.  By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to  re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on.  I decided to hang on.  It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.

In the early morning it seemed to be better.  The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad.  The rain had cleared.  But I hadn’t slept much.

I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator.  By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.

432 MHz preamp cabling
144 MHz antenna
1296 MHz antenna – end mounted

 

The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators.  Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.

Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini.  A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.

VHF/UHF antennas on Mt Ginini

 

Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area.  Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend.  VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well.  We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.

After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432.  We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact.  A digital mode would have worked.  hmm.  More power on my end would have helped too.  Double hmm.

The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.

At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too.  And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450.  I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.

It did, partly.  VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ.  But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.

My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island.  After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.

Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery.  I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts.  I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals.  No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.

The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm.  A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.

The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.

Mostly packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer. 2m and 70cm mast still to be disassembled.

 

Contacts made:  183 total.

Band totals:

  • 50 Mhz:  39
  • 144:   70
  • 432:  51
  • 1296: 22

Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916

Points lost due to a wrong grid locator:  about 10.

Points lost due to not enough other portables:  500,000.

haha

 

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.

img_0327
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.

goorooyaroo_vk1_ac036

 

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.

IMGP1644

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.

IMGP1645e

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.