The walk up to the summit of Bullen Range is a 5km effort, with a few steep sections but mostly reasonably level walking along a fire trail. Access is from Tidbinbilla Road which connects the village of Tharwa with the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Bullen Range is a few km west of the Tuggeranong Town Centre.
The map above shows Tidbinbilla Road and the connection from the suburb of Gordon. The river shown is the Murrumbidgee. Crossing it at Point Hut Crossing and then turning right onto Tidbinbilla Road leads to a parking spot at a gate into the Bullen Range area just east of Paddy’s River.
There are six gates to pass and only one can be unlatched. You need to climb over the rest. The track goes to the west of Barnes Hill, then two right turns lead to an uphill climb to the ridge line. This 5km trip took me about 90 minutes this time.
After arriving onsite and making several quick contacts on 2m FM with locals, the HF antenna went up on the telescopic pole. A felled tree served as an operating table and a wood stump became a seat.
Just as the HF contacts started, the rain started. It had come from the west where my view was obscured by trees. The tarp I usually sit on was hastily set up as a rain shelter.
After the radio contacts dried up, and while the rain was still light, I packed away and set off back to the car.
After reaching the car and stowing the gear in the back, I sent a message to my WhatsApp group reporting that I was back in the car and en route home.
Travel distance to parking position. About 10 km from Tuggeranong town centre, south Canberra, via Point Hut Crossing over the Murrumbidgee river.
Walk distance from parking spot: about 5km each way.
Terrain and slope: along vehicle trails and fire trails. Some steep sections. Some rocky ground with slippery sections, care advisable. Six gates to climb over or go around (in one case only).
Summit elevation: 925m
Permission required: None. Location is the Bullen Range nature reserve, open to the public except in periods of total fire bans or when notified on the ACT Govt website.
Phone coverage: Optus and Telstra services are readily accessed here.
Visiting my daughter and family on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, I had taken a basic set of SOTA activation gear with me in case an opportunity came up for an activation. While planning activities for Sunday 1st Dec I offered my grandson Jack (12) the option of climbing Mt Coolum with me and joining in a SOTA activation. He jumped at the chance and his mum was very happy to see him accompany me.
We drove up to Coolum having planned to start the activation at 2pm local time, 0400 UTC. Traffic was ok and Jack read out the navigation instructions from my Navmii app on the iphone as it was not delivering audio to the bluetooth connection.
There was a forecast for a storm to pass through the area and the radar showed a narrow band of rain and high wind. But when we parked at the foot of Mt Coolum there was no sign of bad weather north or east, though there was haze and cloud to the south.
So we decided to continue with the climb and checked the weather we could see as we went. The wind was very strong at times. At the top we found a fenced compound containing some comms gear. I wondered whether we would have much interference from the equipment there, but there was no alternative for mounting the light pole I had brought with me, a 6m thin fishing pole.
We set up the antenna, a trap dipole for 20/30/40m, fed with RG178. The insulator at the feed point has a small hole that the top of the pole can fit into.
The FT817 radio was hearing a lot of static from storms in the area, and some signals from other amateurs on the 40m band. I decided to start on SSB this time, to give Jack a chance to hear what was being said on air. The first contact was with Gerard VK2IO who was portable in a nature reserve in NSW. After that contact my CQ calls were not answered and I decided I needed to move to CW and carry out some contacts in morse code.
Jack had done a bit of morse code for a school project so he knew what it was but didn’t understand the morse I sent or received. I explained the CQ, TNX, 73 and RST codes to him. It was too fast for him though.
After 3 contacts on CW/morse I wanted a fourth so as to qualify for 4 activator points on the CW mode. And once again Bill VK1MCW came to my rescue. He wasn’t hearing me too well, but persisted and listened for my replies until he heard them. He then gave me a low signal report, as I expected, as his own signal was not particularly strong and I knew my transmitter was a lot less powerful than his, so he would be hearing a weaker signal from me. Finally we had confirmed our reports and completed our contact.
Then I noticed some spots on the ParksnPeaks site for portable stations operating on voice/SSB further up in the band. So we looked up there to see who we could hear, sure enough Alan VK2MG was received up on 7.144 and his signal was strong so we had a good chance of being heard by him. After a few calls from stronger stations, Alan heard our call and we were able to exchange signal reports with him successfully.
We looked again at the clouds to the south and the west. The wind was still strong but there was no sign of the wet weather getting nearer to us, so the sunshine continued. However we thought we had been on the hill long enough, it was difficult to make more contacts and we decided to pack up and walk down the hill.
On the way down we saw quite a few walkers coming up the hill. One of them was a very small child about 3 years old, holding mum’s hand. That is quite an achievement for a small child, and for mum!
I was invited to accompany Andrew Moseley VK1AD on this activation. It had been some time since we activated together so it was an extra pleasure doing this one.
The previous time I activated this summit was actually also a joint activation with Andrew.
The main thing we both noticed both enroute to the parking area and on the walk up to the summit was how dry the bushland was, areas which were previously green and even slightly damp were bone dry this time. The long drought had certainly made its mark even in southern VK1. We both thought that the hot summer that has been forecast will probably discourage activations in the bushland to the west and south of Canberra, due to the risk of bushfires. Walking an hour into dry bushland does not make much sense and in fact risks not only the walker’s health/safety/life, but also risks the life of rescuers. Summer may be a quiet period in terms of local activations in the forests near Canberra.
The climb up to the highest of the three peaks comprising the Booroomba Rocks cluster requires descending into the bush between the two southern peaks, then climbing back up through bush and then onto the rocks, after which it is an easy walk up to the tree that my telescopic pole was lashed to, to support my wire antenna. I operated on 40/20/17m and also called cq on 10m just in case something was happening there. I made contacts with other mountain activators in New Zealand and in Japan, as well as several contacts with home stations within NSW, Victoria and South Australia. My total contact count was about 12.
Andrew VK1AD operated on 144, 1296 and 2403, using an FT817 driving transverters on the higher bands, each with a PCB antenna seen in these pictures. He made at least 4 contacts on each of those bands. A number of Canberra operators called him as well as several on other summits, including Ted VK1BL on Mt Ainslie and Bill VK1MCW on Mt Stromlo. Wade VK1MIC called in from his home station as did Peter VK1JH and Matt VK1MT. Dermy VK1DB also called on 144 to give his brand new callsign a workout. He recently passed the advanced licence course.
Andrew VK1AD running his 3 band VHF/Microwave setup
Transverters with PCB antennas (Picture by A.Moseley)
SGLab transverters with PCB antennas (AM)
Showing me operating the vhf gear (AM)
I’m pictured in the distance here concentrating on some CW probaby (AM)
The dual band 1.2/2.4 GHz setup driven by an FT817 through a diplexor (AM)
I was pleased to find this climb was much easier than last time I came up here. On that day we first activated Pheasant Hill and then came up to this one. My feet were very sore after that day, possibly due to my walking boots being too tight. On this occasion I wore the Merrell mid boots I had worn on my walk in Spain, which are still in good condition and still comfortable. I did have a few aches the next morning, but that’s ok.
A good day spent playing radio and I got home in time to prepare for a social function in Canberra later that day.
Leaving Canberra at 7am and heading out via Hoskinstown to the South Black Range summit, I was ready by 8:30 am to make contact with a group of SOTA enthusiasts back in Canberra. The plan was to first use 146.5 fm to make local contacts with whoever was there. Then go to 1296 MHz ssb to make a few contacts there, and then go to the HF bands.
Right on time, Andrew Vk1AD spotted himself on sotawatch.org showing he was set up and ready for the morning’s contacts with a group of SOTA trainees at Mt Stromlo.
Also Matt VK1MA, Al VK1RX and Ian VK1DI were on other summits. These four operators were on air on the first day of SOTA in VK1, 1st Feb 2013 and we were all on air when each of us have qualified for the 1000 point Mountain Goat award.
We made our contacts and after the 4th contact, several goat bleats were heard on my radio.
I then moved to 1296 and made contacts with Andrew VK1AD and Bill VK1MCW. The contact with Bill was made on CW as a first for 1296 SOTA in vk1.
After that it was 80m and 40m. Conditions were favouring longer distances on 40m and it was necessary to use 80m to make contacts into Sydney or into the Melbourne area or any points closer in.
After spending several hours on the summit and getting colder all the time, it being only just above freezing point, I was suddenly surprised by hearing a voice. There was Matt VK1MA walking towards me grinning and offering me a Mountain Goat ale. We are lucky in Australia to have a boutique brewery that has produced this very aptly named ale.
After completing the activation and packing away, Matt helped me carry all the equipment back to the car down the hill a bit, then I headed off to Mt Cowangerong to make it a double activation for the day.
My activator score after the Gippstech trip was 984 so I was then able to plan two activations of 8 point summits to reach and exceed 1000 points, the requirement for the Mountain Goat award under the SOTA programme.
Thursday 19th July brought reasonable weather and Friday was forecast with rain and snow down to 900m. The summit I had in mind was Yankee Ned, Vk2/SW-026 at just over 1200m, but I did not plan to sit in falling snow, sleet or rain while doing it. So Thursday it was and I set out from Yass in the morning, arriving at Wee Jasper about 50 mins later, then reaching the summit parking spot at 90 or 100 minutes. Remarkably there was logging traffic on the Wee Jasper forest road and the dry weather allowed the truck to stir up a huge dust cloud, making it necessary to drop back and allow the dust to settle.
At Yankee Ned it was a 20 min walk up to the summit itself, where I set up my ZS6BKW doublet, the LDG tuner and the FT817. I also had brought an amplifier and planned to try it if conditions made contacts withe the 5w power level too difficult. As it happened, after making only one contact on 80m CW and making no SSB contacts after calling for 10 minutes, I decided to connect the amplifier into the antenna circuit between the radio and the ATU. It made quite a difference, and I was able to make a string of contacts in short time. One contact was with Tony VK3CAT who was mobile in Melbourne and offered to stop shortly and give me a CW contact. That was the first of several CW contacts and I was very pleased to qualify the summit on CW as well as SSB.
By then it was 15:30 and the sun was getting noticeably lower in the sky, the pine trees around the summit were sufficiently tall and thick to cast quite a cold shadow over me and my equipment. So after making all the contacts that seemed possible I packed everything up and descended to the car with 995 points on the virtual scoreboard. All was ready for the coming Sunday and the activation that would seal the deal for the MG award.
Gippstech is a technical conference convened by the Eastern Zone radio club in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. While the trip from the Canberra area is about 650-700 km it is worth it because the content of the presentations is uniquely valuable. Some presenters are very skilled both in the technical work they do and in presenting it. Some are even entertaining!
As the trip from Canberra takes me past a number of SOTA summits and WWFF parks and nature reserves, it seems only sensible to call into those locations and run up the activator score a bit.
So I activated
The Peak VK2/SM-068 (8+3)
Mt Delegate VK3/VG-034 (8+3)
Goonmirk Rocks (8+3)
the first two on the trip to the conference and the third on the way back. I originally intended to activate the three summits on the southbound journey but I was running behind on time and had to skip the third one on the first day.
While at the conference I stayed with a long term friend Peter VK3PF and we naturally started to discuss what summits were available to be activated on the day after the conference. One thing led to another and that led to us heading up into the hills north of Morwell on the Monday. The summits activated that day were:
Conners Plain (8+3)
Mt Selma (8+3)
Mt Useful (8+3)
On the following day I activated Goonmirk Rocks on my way north. I only have a few photos of the forest, more interesting than radios and antennas actually…
Once you are in this forest you are in Erinnundra National Park. My silly GPS referred to it as Errindundra. But then, every animal warning sign is displayed on the GPS as “animal crossing” which is rather silly.
This weekend’s haul provided 72 points at a time when I was nearing the 1k mark and was very welcome. Only 16 points to reach the Mountain Goat level after this weekend.
Thanks to Peter for doing all the driving and advising on routes etc.
Having an opportunity to activate a few summits I decided to head west of Canberra, travelling out towards Tumut on the Brindabella Road past Picadilly Circus on the saddle between Bulls Head and Mt Coree. I realised as I drove down this road that I had never driven on this section before. It is narrow in places and not unlike the Mt Franklin Rd as it passes Mt Franklin, narrow and with a few hundred metres drop on one side of the road. However it is wider and reasonably well surfaced the lower you go down to the Goodradigbee river.
After climbing back up to about the 1100m level heading west I drove past a few traces of snow from the past week.
One part of the road had a bit more snow and I stopped again to take a snap.
At Mt Tumorrama there was no snow but still plenty of blackberry thorns. I did find a short piece of RG58 Coax with a BNC plug on one end. The other end looked like it had been broken off – possibly by a mountain goat? I didn’t take a pic of that.
At Yankee Ned Hill, the walk up the southern slope revealed more traces of recent snow.
The temperature on the hill was cool, the temperature in the car indicated 8C but I think it was colder on the hill. My hands were very cold by the time I packed up and walked back downhill.
Conditions were not good, but I managed to qualify both summits, one one both CW and SSB. 80m didn’t work as well as I hoped it would. Too early in the day perhaps for longer distances. I heard a brief burst of a voice after one of my CQ calls – I thought it may have been a VK3 but it was only a second of so – don’t know why that occurred. Meteor scatter? Sporadic E? (not all possible answers are likely to be valid)
I used the IC703 and a ZS6BKW style antenna fed with 300 ohm ribbon on this activation. Its big advantage is band agility. No need to lower the antenna to change links when changing bands. It is lighter than the linked dipole, mainly due to the many links I have in mine (two for each band).
My LiFePO4 battery appears to be behaving like it is on the way out. It is 4 years old but for the first year of its life I was apparently not using the right type of charger. One cell seems to die much quicker than the others and goes down to 3.0v or below, after which I stop using it. I may have to replace it and this time I will use the balanced charging option religiously. I previously misunderstood the battery charge options and thought it was applying a balanced charge to all cells in standard charging mode. Not so.
Other equipment: my cardio fitness seems to be returning. This is not a difficult hill to walk up, and I was pleased to be able to do that without stopping or feeling uncomfortable. I guess I stopped very briefly to take the photos but in general I can report that 3 months after my operation, the engine is running well.
Afterwards I drove to Tumut then Gundagai and returned to Yass via the Hume Highway. I didn’t fancy driving down the bush track to Wee Jasper at dusk, when it is kangaroo feeding time and they are at their most unpredictable and dangerous.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Contacts made: 183 total.
50 Mhz: 39
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.
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.
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.
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.
Canberra is known to many as “the bush capital” and this means there are a lot of nature parks interspersed among the suburbs and hills. The only National Park in the Australian Capital Territory is Namadgi, which is southwest of the city area, but there are several dozen other nature reserves. Once they had been given VKFF numbers by the WWFF coordinator for Australia, it became a natural extension of my portable operations around Canberra to add the VKFF number of a park I was in while activating SOTA summits.
After activating Majura, Ainslie, Taylor, Isaacs Ridge and Tuggeranong as well as Namadgi NP many times due to the number of SOTA summits located in registered parks, it seemed like a good idea to continue to activate parks in the spring weather we are now enjoying (November) between rain showers (it has been a very wet year).
In October and November to date I have activated Urambi Hills, McQuoids Hill, Cooleman Ridge, Farrer Ridge and Wanniassa Hills Nature Reserves, all in the Tuggeranong Valley or adjacent to it. The next reserve activated was Mt Painter nature reserve.
All were easy to access, and for the hills you have the option of setting up anywhere within the reserve, not necessarily on the hilltop, though in several cases I was curious to look at the view from the top and did walk up anyway. I was also using these activations as training exercises as I was acutely conscious of losing some of my fitness for SOTA walking due to various injuries during the year.
The operating position at Urambi Hills. Photo taken by camera attached to the antenna pole at about 1.2m.
At Tuggeranong Hill
The nature park sign at McQuids Hill.
Looking back down the hill from half way up. Loose stones, take care here, especially downhill.
Almost at the top, McQuoid’s Hill
Operating at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve
Lashing the pole to a fairly dead tree. Using the branch to prevent the rope from slipping downwards, just as F1BLL calls me.
Plenty of wildlife like this mother carrying a baby at Farrer Ridge
I particularly enjoyed the walk up to Mt Wanniassa, which qualifies as a nature reserve but is not a SOTA Summit. Nearby Isaacs Ridge is slightly higher. But this is a nice mountain and has a great view.
After these southside nature reserves I looked at the map and decided that a northside reserve was next. Mt Painter is a hill to the south of the suburb of Cook in the Belconnen area. It was many years since I visited this hill and it was an easy walk up from a roadside park, past the water reservoirs and to this bench with a view of Black Mountain and the lake.
On most of these activations I made at least 10 contacts in about an hour, using 40 and 20m bands on SSB and CW. I was hoping for more dx contacts on 20m CW but conditions have been depressed, so it is even more difficult than usual for a 10 watt signal to get all the way around the earth.
Gerard, F1BLL did call me on most of these activations and even when very few others seemed to hear me in Europe, he heard and called me. Thanks Gerard, very nice to have your consistent signal on nearly all of my recent activations.
Another Gerard, VK2IO, attempted contacts with me from Sydney on many of these activations but the radio conditions simply didn’t give us a chance of making a contact via the very high ionosphere.
Equipment used on activations: Icom IC703 at 10w output.
linked dipole capable of operating on any band from 40m to 10m
vertical antenna for 20m, 5m vertical and three 5m radials, tuned to 14.200
antennas supported on a 7m telescopic fibreglass pole.
As all the nature reserves are intended for public use, there is no requirement to get permission to enter and use them.
Amateur Radio, Computing and other activities of Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH