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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
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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.

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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.

WWFF activations in the Canberra suburbs

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.

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At Tuggeranong Hill

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The nature park sign at McQuids Hill.

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Looking back down the hill from half way up.  Loose stones, take care here, especially downhill.

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Almost at the top, McQuoid’s Hillimgp2041s

Operating at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve

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Lashing the pole to a fairly dead tree.  Using the branch to prevent the rope from slipping downwards, just as F1BLL calls me.

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Plenty of wildlife like this mother carrying a baby at Farrer Ridge

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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.

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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.imgp2106s imgp2107s

 

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.

Antennas:

  • 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.

 

VK1DA in England at SOTA summit G/NP-028

During our trip to England in June 2016 I planned to activate several SOTA summits.

Having arranged to activate several hills in the Peak District I thought this would be a simple matter of driving to my contact’s house, collecting him there and proceeding to the parking area at the base of the hill, then executing the well rehearsed process of activating a summit. This was not to be and I wasn’t able to carry out that plan. But with only a few days left in my England visit, I thought there may be another opportunity coming up when we were staying at Leeds. I asked Mike 2E0YYY, with whom I had talked from Australia on dozens of occasions in the past few years, for advice on which summits would be achievable for someone with somewhat limited mobility. He immediately offered not only advice on the summit but said he would drive up to Leeds and activate the summit with me. An offer I could not refuse.

Mike duly collected me on the morning of 20/6 and we headed out past Bradford, through a hundred small villages and through lanes narrow enough to be converted into wind tunnels for aircraft experimentation, passing within millimetres of other vehicles and I was reminded of how good it was to have someone else doing the driving.

Arriving at the car park at the approximate activation time, I had poor phone coverage and could not update my alert. Mike cheerfully said, no problem, we’ll be there soon. Walking up the stone pathway in my rainproof pants and jacket, I could only hope the weather stayed fine enough to setup and operate for a while. Mike said the light rain we were walking in was nothing to the tropical rainfall he had driven through that morning. I hoped it had gone in another direction.

Onsite at the trig we set up my 10m Dxwire pole and my home made linked dipole on 20m. I decided to use my FT817 given how much effort it was to bring the radio and other gear. The pole was guyed using the guying ring made for me by my good friend Adan VK1FJAW in Canberra, on his 3D printer.

Starting on CW mode with the 5w from the 817 I made the first four contacts in relatively slow conditions with only a few callers each time I called CQ or QRZ? But after the fourth or fifth contact, more and more callers came back, so I eventually had about 20 contacts on CW without having to move frequency or do anything heroic. Several S2S contacts were included, so nice to work people like HB9BCB and others with big signals in Europe instead of hearing the somewhat weaker signals from the other side of the globe.

Andrew VK1DA (L) and Mike 2E0YYY (R) at NP028
Andrew VK1DA (L) and Mike 2E0YYY (R) at G/NP-028

After making another bunch of contacts on 20m SSB we decided to try 40m. We made a few contacts there but generally it was not as productive as 20m. My morse paddle cable seemed to be intermittent and would only work correctly with the paddle placed on top of the radio.  I was unsure whether it would last the distance if I continued on CW.  I had intended to operate on CW on at least 20 and 40m, and had also taken a 6m antenna to try that band. Given the occasional short distance contact on 20m it seemed there was some sporadic E occurring and I may have had some fun on 6m. However at that stage I was happy enough to have activated the summit successfully and I did not want to risk stressing my sore foot. So the 6m band was never attempted.

In summary, I am very grateful to Mike 2E0YYY for going to so much effort to help me activate in England. It was very good to make contacts with some of the SOTA crowd that I had worked many times from home in Australia.  Amateur Radio again shows itself to be a magic ingredient for a tourist.

SOTA activations in December 2015 and January 2016

After the diamond quad experiment at Spring hill for the 10m contest and the 6&10 challenge, I planned a series of minor activations that were intended mainly to just add another summit to my activation list on 6&10m.

Goorooyaroo Hill

So an activation of Goorooyaroo, east of Canberra, followed on 15th December.  It was a joint activation with Adan VK1FJAW and we used 10m to obtain one new unique worked station, plus some contacts on 6m. During this activation the coax plug on the feedline for the 6m antenna disintegrated and I had to restore the connection temporarily using a BNC-binding post adaptor, which I had in my parts box, along with pliers, connectors and kitchen sinks.

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The failed connector was replaced by this concoction of adaptors.
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Adan is shown here operating a log

Mt Gingera for New Year’s Day

There was a gap of several weeks until the end of December, when Adan and I made the trek to Mt Gingera, VK1/AC-002.  We parked at the base of Mt Ginini and then rode our bikes 6 km to the final ascent point to Mt Gingera.  The long uphill trudge between the car park and the hill just before Prior’s hut was the main challenge of this trip.  I rode the bike for part of this.

At the summit we decided to operate from a grassy area just to the north of the trig point.  Adan set up his 10m antenna and made a few new uniques on that band, and I attempted to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 2m and 6m, without success.  Having no phone coverage meant I had to count on others to spot me.  Chris was looking out for spots on sotawatch and seeing none, assumed we were not yet onsite.

6m gave me a few vk1 contacts but was not open to more distant points so was quite disappointing. A contact on 2m with John VK2YW at Wagga gave me some hopes of working him on 6m, but while I could hear him he could not hear my signal at all.  I had taken the IC706 in the hope that having more power would help with contacts.  After a couple of hours in the hot sun, and it was over 30C that day, I was finding it hard to keep any enthusiasm for doing any more of the same.  Adan felt he had worked all that were available on 10m so was ready to head back to the car.

The consolation for the unproductive 6m was that at least we had qualified the summit both before and after 0000 UTC, which meant qualifying it in both 2015 and 2016.   40m was poor that day, with unreliable propagation due to recent solar events.

Mt Tumorrama, Billapoola State forest

A week later I headed out to the Bondo state forest between Tumut and Brindabella, to activate Mt Tumorrama VK2/SW-027 and a hilltop in the Billapoola state forest, VK2/SW-034.  The second activation was made using the ft817 and with the 10m antenna mast held up in my hand.  Not ideal, but it was raining and all I wanted to do was make 4 contacts and get out. Fortunately it was possible to work into Canberra on 10m.

Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053

At Mt Mundoonen on 15th Jan gave me some new uniques on 6m and 10m.  I used the diamond quad on 10m and the half wave vertical on 6m.  I operated from the small sun shelter, and the impression you get in those things is a reduction of about 10 degrees when you are in the shade.  They have a good SPF rating. Makes operating outside in summer more comfortable and a lot safer.

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The SOTA shack on Mt Mundoonen
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The setup at Mundoonen

Webbs Ridge, Dingi Dingi, Baldy Range

A few days later I also activated Webbs Ridge, Dingi Dingi ridge and Baldy Range in company with Adan VK1FJAW, Tony VK1VIC and Grant VK4JAZ.  It’s always a good day in the bush with friends, lots of laughs and plenty of talk about antennas, how much power Matt and Mark run, etc. 🙂

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Tony’s car descending the trail to Baldy Range
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My 6m station at Dingi Dingi Ridge
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Unusual lump on a tree, en route to Dingi Dingi
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Follow the path?
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There is no path
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Descending the trail en route to Baldy Range
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Adan’s operating position at Baldy Range looks quite relaxed

Mt Coree VK1/AC-023

The activation of Mt Coree was with Adan after work one day.  It was a calm clear day, visibility was excellent and the sunset was impressive.  To add to that there was a 6m opening to VK5 and some 10m contacts into VK4 plus one contact into Indonesia.

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Great sunset on Mt Coree
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Adan busily racking up 10m points on Mt Coree

Bald Mt, Big Badja (fail), flat tyre

On 22nd January I drove down to Bald Mountain SM059, intending also to activate Big Badja however en route to the second summit the weather turned and I decided not to travel down the forest trail.  I thought I would go to Mt Cowangerong near Braidwood and decided to head north to do that.  On the way a storm blew through, with tropical level rainfall and hailstones, lasting about 30 minutes and giving way to a steady rainfall.

Postponing the summit until after lunch I called into the bakery at Braidwood for a coffee, a pastie and an apple pie.

Suitably refreshed I drove the car up the main street and found the steering pulling to the left so I knew I had a flat tyre.  Pulling into a parking spot 100m north of the bakery, I set about the job of changing the tyre.  I called off any more forest trips, though no doubt the nail or screw in the tyre was picked up in the street at Braidwood rather than in the forest.  Quite a long day for one activation as I got home at about 6pm.

Yankee Ned and Snow Gum Mt

Four days later on 26th January I returned to Yankee Ned Hill VK2/SW-026, making a few contacts on 10m, 6m and 40m. There was no cooperation from 6 or 10m and the only contacts available were with VK1 “locals”.  Then I drove east along Brindabella Rd, leaving the sealed section for several km, then heading north east along Nottingham Rd to reach the road junction at the base of Snow Gum Mt VK2/SW-028.  This is a short hill climb on foot, taking me about 20 minutes.  Again some 10m and 40m contacts qualified the summit for general activation points as well as adding it to my 6/10m summit list.

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An echidna seen in the Wee Jasper Forest
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Operating shelter on Yankee Ned Hill
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part of the climb up Yankee Ned Hill
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part of the climb up Yankee Ned Hill
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part of the climb up Yankee Ned Hill
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The operating setup at Snow Gum Mt
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Antenna mast strapped to a burnt tree stump

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Mt Cowangerong VK2/ST-001

On 28th January I decided that the weather forecast for late afternoon storms was not going to be right, so headed out to Mt Cowangerong to add that to the 10m log.  My first contact was with Dale VK1DSH, which was quite promising as he was using a general purpose doublet and his FT817.  Four other contacts on 10m were made with Canberra operators, but the band was not providing any interstate contacts.  The rain I drove through at Captains Flat threatened to resume in more serious form so I packed up without trying 40m.  The lightning crashes on 10m were strong enough to be a worry.

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The sun shelter doubled as a rain shelter on Mt Cowangerong

Mt Majura VK1/AC-034

On the second of February I activated Mt Majura VK1/AC-034.  There are two well defined tracks up this one, both departing from its foothills in the suburb of Hackett.    I have used the.more northerly of the two, thinking it looked shorter, however it seems to take longer so perhaps it is steeper and slower.    Contacts made:  a handful of locals on 10m, 12 on 20m CW and 24 on 40m ssb.

Mt Ainslie on 3rd Feb

An after-work activation and was fortunate to make contact into Japan as well as with several local 10m operators, plus several contacts on 20m CW.

 

Shelter on Mt Ainslie
Shelter on Mt Ainslie

The next activation was to be my last for the 6m/10m challenge.  A separate post will be written for that one…

Bobbara Hill, VK2/ST-044 on 4th December 2015

Although I had activated this summit earlier in the year I wanted to get it into my log for the 6m/10m challenge.  So when an opportunity presented itself, with VK1AD on Mt Ainslie for an S2S, I packed the gear into the car and headed off towards Binalong, which is the nearest village to Bobbara hill.

I forgot how much longer it would take to walk up this hill in the heat.  It was about 30C when I left the car and by the time I was half way up I was confident it had risen to 40.  I finally reached my operating position after 45 mins of climbing and set up a shelter for the radio and the operator as the sun was still very strong.  Getting into the shade of the shelter was a huge relief.  I erected the squid pole with the linked dipole, which worked well.

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I started on 10m and had contacts with three Canberra stations, Matt VK1MA, Andrew VK1AD and Ingmar VK1BGT, who was kind (and keen) enough to drive up to Dairy Farmers Hill, just west of the Tuggeranong Parkway near the Scrivener Dam.  I could hear him faintly as he talked to Canberra stations en route, but when he got to the top of that hill near the Arboretum, he was finally able to hear me, albeit weakly.  I also had a call from Roald VK1MTS on the repeater who said he had listened for me but not heard me.  He is located at the eastern border of the ACT so it was a long haul for a tropo contact on 10m especially with only 5w from my transmitter.

I then called cq for a while further on 10m, on both ssb and on cw, without success.  I changed the antenna over to 20m, finding that one of the links could not actually be reconnected, so I was unable to go to 40m as planned.  I repaired the link later at home, crimping and soldering a new connector (spade lug).

On 20m I heard not much activity on the ssb end of the band but I  spotted myself on 14.062 and called cq for a while, netting VK6NU, VK4RF and several Europeans who were excellent signal strengths.

I am convinced of the advantages of these shelters in hot weather.  Just need to sort out a good way of carrying them.  The bag has straps which are not really much use when you are already carrying a back pack and walking with a squid pole.  I can’t use a HT while all that junk is occupying my hands so I don’t usually run the HT while walking to or from a summit.  Having a better operating environment is very good in hot weather.

Inside the shelter - shade and coolth
Inside the shelter – shade and coolth

Activating Bowning Hill during the CQ WW DX contest (CW section) 

I hoped this activation would allow me to add some new unique callsigns to my stations worked list for the 10m part of the 6m/10m challenge.  I used three new pieces of equipment for this activation.

First, the antenna.  I thought my inverted Vee dipole could be improved upon for long distance contacts (DX), so I cut a quarter wave vertical with 4 radials as a trial antenna.  It seemed to work very well and I heard and worked stations in Japan and the USA without much difficulty despite using 5 watts from the FT817.

The base of the main vertical element was at about 1.5m above ground, with the radials sloping down to ground level but insulated off the ground by small lengths of hootchie cord.  The main radiator element was taped to the squid pole.  It was actually the lower half of the 20m vertical I have used for several activations on that band.  I simply cut it at half its length, then crimped a set of  spade lugs onto each half.   Thus, a linked vertical.  I should probably do the same for the radials.

Signals from some of the Japanese and US stations were indicating s9 on the strength meter of the 817.  What I found was that it was necessary to call the louder stations, sometimes several times, to make contacts. I did have a “run” of about 5 contacts on 28.052 where I called cq for about 15 to 20 minutes at one stage.  But to really attract attention you need a big signal and mine certainly wasn’t big.

The second new piece of equipment was a sun shelter, kindly bought for me by my wife, who worried that I would get badly burned sitting in the sun on hilltops.

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And the third new item for this activation was the guying kit that Adan VK1FJAW made for me, complete with 3D printed guying ring that sits right on the top of the first segment of the Haverford 7m squid pole.  With guys about 2m in length, the pole was as stable as if it was tied to a fence or a steel stake.  I’m very pleased with that one, Adan!

After working about 25 stations on 10m CW I decided to take a break from the pressure of the contest speed (about 22 wpm in my case but some of them were running somewhat faster).  I pulled down the squid pole to put up the usual linked dipole set to 40m.  Then I found I was almost the only SOTA portable on the air, apart from Greg VK1AI who I could barely hear.  The parks weekend was in full flight, with a dozen or more portables workable at various locations around NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

After the break on 40m ssb I decided to have a final listen on 10m and after removing the 40m dipole and feedline, I made a few more contacts on 10m CW.

 

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Final 10m cw contact count was only 28.  More power and an even better antenna next time!

 

VK1 Deferred QSO Party and VK2/4/6 SOTA anniversary

It’s not hard to think of a reason to have a QSO party. SOTA contacts are a lot of fun for all involved.  For activators there is the question of whether to reactivate a summit already visited, possibly visited this year, or whether to look for a new personal unique summit, ie. one you have not previously activated.

This event was a combination of the postponed VK1 QSO Party and the anniversary of SOTA for VK2/4/6.   For this event I wanted to make the best use of the winter bonus and also activate some new uniques.  Yankee Ned and Mount Tumorrama seemed to be good options and I looked carefully at maps and planned my trip.

It was a fairly clear day as I drove from Yass to Wee Jasper, then continued towards Tumut on the Wee Jasper Road.  There were many roos and wallabies feeding near the road, some creating hazards by reacting unpredictably to the approaching or passing car.  I realised when I reached Brindabella Road that I did not have the map prepared at home.  I looked up the lat/lon of Yankee Ned using Sotagoat on the phone (which had no coverage there), converted the decimal degrees to degrees, minutes and seconds and input the coordinates into the Garmin GPS.  That gave me a direction and distance to reach the foothills of the summit, however on reaching the vicinity of the summit, my location was clearly wrong as there was a much higher summit to the west.  I decided to walk up the higher summit and on reaching the top I compared the lat/lon details with SOTA Goat data.  It was identical so I knew I was in  the right place.  I later decided I must have made an error in the conversion of lat/long in decimal degrees to degrees/minutes/seconds, so in future I will use decimal degrees on the GPS unless there is a reason to do otherwise.

Yankee Ned operating site
Yankee Ned operating site

Getting the radios going I made contacts with Matt 1MA, Andrew 1NAM and Andrew 1MBE, Roald 1MTS.  Then on 40m I had some CW contacts with a number of VK3 and VK5 callers.  Close-in contacts were difficult, indicating propagation was favouring longer distances than usual.

Yankee Ned operating site
Yankee Ned operating site

I was hoping for a good number of S2S contacts from this summit.  With conditions so unusual, I failed to reach Adan VK1FJAW at Mt Gillamatong.  While I was on Yankee Ned, he ended his operation at Mt G and drove over to Mt Palerang, where he had a (self-imposed!) steep climb up the eastern side of the mountain.  Conditions were still unfavourable so we missed each other on that occasion.

At about 1pm I packed up and walked down the north side of Yankee Ned, reaching the fire trail that encircles the hill, then walking back along the fire trail where my car was parked.

Lunch
Lunch

I spent 10 minutes making a cup of tea and lunch. Then drove on to Mt Tumorrama, which is easily reached by car all the way to the top.  In fact the track I used to access Yankee Ned went back to Wee Jasper Forest Road and the access for Tumorrama was about 10m along the road, almost opposite where the Yankee Ned fire trail emerged from the forest.

At Mt Tumorrama I was unsure of whether the equipment in the building there would create any radio interference for me.  In fact there was a lot of noise on 40m and 20m, making some frequencies very hard to use.  The noise coincided with the running of cooling fans inside the building compound.  I think operating further away from the building would be a better plan next time.  Avoiding the blackberry bushes would also be better.  A few thorns pierced my jeans and that was not a good experience…

Mt Tumorrama
Mt Tumorrama
Mt Tumorrama
Mt Tumorrama
view from Mt Tumorrama
view from Mt Tumorrama

On  this summit I spent some time on 2m FM working into the Canberra area, then some time on 40m, both CW and SSB.  A text message to Adan discovered he was about to arrive at his third summit, so I asked him to let me know when he would be ready for a contact on 144.150 SSB, as it was clear that HF would not allow any contacts between us.  It was about 100km and I felt sure that our little radios would be able to do that distance on 2m ssb.  Eventually we did make that contact so that was worth waiting for.

The weather on the hill had gradually changed so by 4pm it was quite cool and rain clouds were building up.  I packed up soon afterwards and started the 2hr trip back to Yass at about 4:15pm.

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view from Mt Tumorrama
view from Mt Tumorrama

On the way back I noticed this unusual circular pattern of partly submerged rocks on the hillside opposite the road.  Not related to SOTA.  Included as a bonus.

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