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. 😉
I was late arriving at the summit of Mt Majura partly due to forgetting what a long walk it is. For some reason I had 30 mins in my mind but obviously I was mixing it up with other summits in vk1 because it took more like 50 mins this time.
I made most of the contacts on 40m plus a few on 20 and 12m.
There were quite a number of family groups, walkers, runners and cyclists on the summit during the 2 hours I was there. I wonder if one of them picked up my reading glasses without realising they were mine.
I was also puzzled by a comment from some walkers I passed on the way up. They suggested I should have identification to prove I was doing something legal and legitimate. Perhaps reflecting their past employment they seemed to think someone with a radio was rather suspicious.
I pointed out that mobile phones are radios and have access to anywhere in the world, with GPS and other functions that are far more powerful than a simple voice and morse radio. We chatted amicably for a few minutes and departed in our separate directions afterwards.
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.
VK2 and VK4 have joined SOTA, a world wide award programme originating in the UK and now active in many European countries, the USA, Canada, Korea and some states of Australia.
I took on the role of association manager for vk2, aka New South Wales, initially to coordinate the surveying of mountains to identify the complying summits for the SOTA award. Enjoying portable operation myself, I thought having NSW in the SOTA map would provide me with additional incentives to climb more local and distant mountains, enjoy the Australian bush land, use amateur radio in a slightly different way and along the way improve my fitness.
All NSW regions have been included in the initial registration. Amendments can be made annually.
The association manager for vk4 (Queensland) is Dave Clodd VK4OZY. Due to the size of Queensland it was not possible for one or two surveyors to cover the whole state. Queensland’s most populous area in the south east and along the coastline north from Brisbane have been listed and other regions will be added according to demand in annual updates.
Delayed by work, I did not have enough time to walk up the mountain from the base so I settled on a walk from the parking area and lookout that is 2/3 the way up the mountain. The road to the summit from that area still requires 40 to 50m of climb, satisfying the 25m activation zone rule.
The summit path from the parking area has some decorative fallen logs over it.
Some views of the Canberra CBD buildings through gaps in the trees.
At the top I passed the tower building and the car park and found a suitable location where I could put up the antenna and sit on a rock to operate the radio.
The 40m band was very active with many signals from Australia, New Zealand and some US and Canadians heard working VKs. I made 10 contacts on 40m band using ssb (voice) and two on 20m using CW (morse), one of which was to Germany.
The Canberra Region Amateur Radio Club received authorisation to use the callsign Vi100ACT during the month of March 2013, to recognise the Canberra Centenary. I volunteered to coordinate the roster of members who were keen to use the callsign during the month and rostered myself on for the 40m, 20m and 2m bands on the evening of 1 March when I would be activating Mt Ainslie as a SOTA station.
For this activation I set up the 20m dipole as well as the 40m dipole. I made about 15 contacts on 40m including VK1/2/3/4/5/7, ZL2 and FK8. A few contacts were made on 2m FM, then I moved to 20m and self spotted on sotawatch.org to announce that I was calling on 14.061 CW. I then worked 8 contacts into England, Germany, Austria and France (G, DL, OE and F) with reports varying from 339 (weak) to 559 (fair). This seemed a fair result for the first use of the 20m dipole, not yet optimised for length or angle. The power output of the FT817 is 5 watts.
The two dipoles shared a common feedpoint at the top of the squid pole support, and the dipoles were strung out in roughly the same plane, the longer one at the top and the shorter one below it. No impact on the 40m antenna behaviour was apparent. The SWR on 20m was not ideal as there was some reflected power indicated on the 817 meter.
The Vi100ACT callsign is to be used on various bands by different club members during the month of March 2013. The official centenary of Canberra’s founding/naming ceremony is on the 12th of March.
The documentation was cleared during January 2013 by the SOTA management team after some amendments and updates. VK1 was then given a start date of 1st February.
To make the day memorable we encouraged VK1 activations via email lists and a presentation at the local club a week earlier. We asked chasers to tune in and help us get our required contacts. Activations at 0000 UTC were by Andrew VK1NAM at Booroomba Rocks, Matt VK1MA at Mt Stromlo, Russell VK1JRM at Tuggeranong Hill and by me at Mt Taylor. I logged 20 contacts on a combination of 7 MHz SSB and 146.5 MHz FM. Later in the day Ian VK1DI walked up Mt Majura and activated successfully with VK3 and VK5 contacts.
There are a few possible approaches to climbing Mt Taylor. The route I chose was from Sulwood Drive, Kambah. This route may be a little longer than the Pearce or Chifley approaches. Parking on Sulwood drive near the intersection with Manheim St, the walking path is easy to find and leads up a steady rocky path, which eventually becomes a bitumen sealed path, gives way to compressed gravel, some concrete in places and some wooden framed steps in other parts of the trip.
On arrival at the summit, the squid pole was extended and the central feedpoint of the 40m dipole was attached to it using cord. The ends of the dipole insulated by several metres of cord are attached to tent pegs hammered into the ground. A stone could be used as a hammer but I took a rubber mallet for this purpose.
The FT817 was powered by a 2.1 AH SLA Battery. Note the miniature morse paddle, purchased as a kit at Dayton Hamvention in 2010. This paddle is nice but too light so it needs to be held with one hand while you send with the other. Attaching it to a lump of heavy metal (not a Metallica album) would solve the problem but also add to the weight in the backpack (see below).
Signals on 40m were very good. Easy contacts were made around VK1 and with VK3 stations, including some SOTA activators on summits in VK3.
After liaising with Bruce VK1HBB on 2m we also made contact on 7090 where we had our first SOTA contact for VK1. After that the fun began and at times three frequencies were in use on 40m, while on 146.5 FM the Icom radio chattered away with a continuous series of contacts between VK1HBB, VK1FPIT and VK1FTAY who were portable at Mt Ainslie, VK1NAM at Booroomba Rocks, VK1MA at Mt Stromlo, VK1JRM at Mt Tuggeranong, VK1DR, VK1SV and VK1DI.
On HF I did call cq on CW at one stage but activity on CW during week days is rather low. This must be why my signal was discovered by an automatic skimmer run by Lyle VK1LW, whose station logged my CQ call and that ended up on SOTAWATCH as a spot.
Everyone involved seems to have enjoyed the day. A field day with a difference. Several operators took leave from work to activate on this day and we appreciated also the efforts of VK3 and VK5 activators and chasers who turned up on time to give us contacts and get these new SOTA summits into their chaser logs. No doubt from this point on we will gain new activators and chasers as familiarity with the award increases.
I would like to use more bands for these events. Some activators are routinely making CW contacts into Europe and the USA, some are making some ssb contacts, using 20m and 15m bands.
I underestimated the amount of equipment I would be trying to stuff into my ordinary backpack, and how much it weighed when I did! And that was a single band wire antenna, and a 2m handheld with its own flexible antenna. Carrying a real 2m antenna would add more complexity and weight. The SOTABEAMS enterprise in the UK offers readily assembled beams for various bands. For HF, some operators like horizontal antennas, both centre fed and end fed. Some like verticals. Your mileage does vary depending on what you are trying to do. The verticals would surely be better for DX contacts.
On the way down Mt Taylor I noticed a panoramic map installed by our friendly local government, showing the features of the Tuggeranong Valley and naming the mountains in the distance and on the horizon. Some of these will be familiar to readers, and some will be more familiar in a year’s time as many of the names seen here are SOTA summits.
The prominent mountain behind the town centre is Mt Tennent, named after a bushranger. The fable is that he buried treasure of some kind up there before being captured.
Picture taken two days earlier without the mist was a lot clearer.
The SOTA registration for VK1 has been submitted to the SOTA Management Team (MT) and is under consideration and review with them. The hope is to have SOTA-VK1 operating by the end of summer. There are a number of keen operators wanting to participate in SOTA in VK1.
For VK2 I have agreed to coordinate surveys for the summits in VK2. Jack VK2AXL has surveyed almost 90 summits in the mid north coast area (Coffs Hbr and southwards) and Wayne VK3WAM has surveyed summits in the Snowy Mts area. Ian VK1DI has documented some summits in the south coast region from the border northwards to Narooma. Software has been written by Brenton Schulz VK2MEV to identify potential summits and this should make the process a lot faster.
For anyone interested in SOTA and wanting to connect with others, there is a Yahoo group for SOTA in Australia. The link is http://au.groups.yahoo.com/group/SOTA_Australia and you don’t need to have a yahoo id to join the mailing list, but it is recommended as it lets you look at shared files, photos and a database showing progress towards documenting summits.