Wade vk1mic and I went first to Baldy Range, activated on HF and 2m and 23cm.
VK1/AC-008 (Mt Ginini) 11/10
Arrived at Mt Ginini to find the gate locked at the bottom of the hill. We walked up with 2m and 23cm gear only. About 500-600m uphill.
VK2/IL-003 (Mount Wanganderry) 14/10
This summit is actually off the road but is only a metre or two above the road level. Looks like I didn’t take any photos. After this I went to Mt Alexandra.
VK2/IL-005 (Mount Alexandra) 14/10
I walked very carefully up and down the access track. Some years ago I slipped when coming down the track and fractured a bone in my right wrist. No photos…
VK2/IL-001 (Mount Gibraltar) 14/10
The next morning I drove up to Mt Gibraltar and activated it before 0000 UTC, so this one is dated 14/10.
VK2/IL-002 (Wingecarribee) 15/10
This was a new summit for me. It is a bit uncertain where to find a good operating position, the summit is spread out over a large area. the actual Trig point is within metres of a house that was under construction when I visited. I worked out a reasonable position on the roadside to activate from. After finishing here I went to Knight’s Hill and tried to find a place to activate from, but found it was all inside a gate labelled Private Property, No unauthorised access etc.
VK1/AC-040 (Mt Ainslie) 15/10
On my way home from the failed Knight’s Hill activation I called in at Mt Ainslie where Andrew VK1AD was completing an activation and working Mike 2E0YYY in the UK on 40m ssb. I don’t think I had many contacts but it was an activation.
VK1/AC-037 (Mt Taylor) 18/10
9 contacts on HF and 2 on 2m fm.
VK1/AC-035 (One Tree Hill) 20/10
10 contacts on HF and 2 on 2m FM
VK2/ST-036 (Spring Hill) 14/11
18 on HF and 2 on 2m FM
VK1/AC-008 (Mt Ginini) 21/11
Returning to Ginini to make the cw contacts not made on the previous activation. 15 contacts on HF and 2 on 2m FM.
VK2/IL-007 (Knights Hill) 2/12
The access problem was solved by Compton VK2HRX and I joined him and Phil VK2JDL to activate this summit. 12 contacts on HF and 1 on 2m FM.
VK2/ST-039 (Mt Marulan) 02/12
After Knight’s Hill activation Compton and I went to Mt Marulan to activate it. 10 HF contacts and 1 on 2m FM.
VK2/SW-028 Mt Tomorrama and VK2/SW-034 Billapoola State Forest
While writing up this blog I found that although I had photos from this trip with Wade VK1MIC, I had not submitted my logs for these activations.
VK2/ST-010 (Mt Foxlow) on 31/12 and 1/1/2021
I chose Mt Foxlow for my New Year’s Day activation, as it is worth 8 points so I got 16 points for this trip, getting 7 contacts on 2m FM on 31/12 and lots more on 1/1 on HF and 2m.
During this period I activated the following SOTA summits:
vk1/ac-023 Mt Coree on 11th July
vk2/st-053 Mt Mundoonen on 26 Aug, 4th time this year
VK1/AC-042 Black Mt on 27 Aug
vk1/ac-044 Boboyan Range on 11th September
vk1/ac-021 Pheasant Hill on 12th September
vk2/st-005 Webb’s Ridge on 17th September
vk1/ac-023 Mt Coree on 18th September
vk1/ac-040 Mt Ainslie on 18th September
vk1/ac-042 Black Mt on 22nd September, 5th activation this year so far
vk2/st-042 Bowning Hill on 27th September
One of my goals this year was to earn activation points for CW mode. I was aiming to qualify for MG on CW. My operation would generally commence on CW then move to SSB once I had made at least 4 contacts on CW. This is fairly easy now as many more chasers are looking for CW contacts. On a few occasions I closed down without getting the 4 CW contacts and that meant a return visit later in the year.
Mt Coree VK1/AC-023 on 11th July 2020
This popular site is easily accessed using a 4WD vehicle and this visit was with Wade VK1MIC. it was foggy and cold, just above freezing. Rain was forecast from about 11 AM so we packed up before that time. As we put everything back into the car, the cloud lifted and we could see that there was no rain anywhere near us. A pity as we could have stayed making contacts for a while yet. On this occasion we were trying to make contacts on 6m. 20 contacts were made there and some on 2m and 23cm. No CW contacts at all as we packed up expecting wet weather to arrive. A return visit was planned. No photos taken.
Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053 26th August 2020
As this is the nearest summit to where I live, I tend to activate it several times a year. 80m – 1 contact, 40m – 12 contacts, 20m – 1 contact, 2m fm – 3 contacts. No new photos.
Black Mt VK1/AC-042 27th August 2020
Contacts made on 23cm fm and 80m ssb with vk2 and vk3. None on 40m. No new photos.
VK1/AC-044 Boboyan Range and VK1/AC-021 Pheasant on 12th September
Contacts were made on 80m, 40m, 20m and 2m, with a mix of CW and SSB. The first contacts on Boboyan range were made just before 0000 UTC so the activation date in the sota database is 11th Sept.
VK2/ST-005 Webb’s Ridge on 17th September
This was a joint activation with Andrew VK1AD. He operated on 144 and 1296 and I operated on HF ssb and cw. As the first contacts were made before 0000 UTC the local date for these contacts was 18th Sept. After finishing here with light rain starting to fall, we drove to Mt Coree, the next activation.
VK1/AC-023 Mt Coree on 18th September
This activation was made directly after the Webb’s ridge activation earlier in the day. No new photos taken. I completed the 4 contacts needed to get this summit into my activation log for CW. Also made some contacts on 144 and 1296 using Andrew’s gear.
VK1/AC-040 Mt Ainslie on 18th September
15 contacts made on HF ssb/cw and 2m FM.
VK1/AC-042 Black Mt on 22nd September, 5th activation this year so far
11 contacts made on HF and 2m fm. Activated from a site fairly close to the comms tower.
VK2/ST-042 Bowning Hill on 27th September
This activation was the second I’d made this year. It was the occasion of a charity walk up the hill, where the owners of the property made it available for people to climb the hill and enjoy the view, while making a donation to a local charity which supports people requiring long term health care due to illness other than cancers. I thought this was a good cause and it allowed me to activate it again and hand out the summit points.
A number of local service organisations were present, including the Rural Fire Service. There was a coffee vendor offering espresso coffee, which I was happy to find! I think there would have been hundreds of climbers supporting the event during the day.
These two summits are fairly near each other, making them an obvious pair for a dual activation. The higher of the two is Mt Tumorrama and there is a communications installation on the top, consisting of a compound containing a small building, a tower, lots of antennas and at times some spurious signals can be heard on HF bands, most likely to be from inverters for the heating and cooling system.
I drove out to this area via the Brindabella Rd. It is about an hour and a half to Mt Tumorrama from Canberra.
The activity this time was mainly on HF, with a bunch of contacts with VK2/3/4 and ZL1(BYZ) on 80m and 40m CW, finally a 2m FM contact back into Canberra with VK1AD.
Moving on to Tumorrama Hill, I drove around to the western side of the hill and parked as high as I could, on the side of a fire trail. Walking up to hillside through low bushes, the silence of the forest is only punctuated by bird calls. A very pleasant place to be.
The HF gear was set up again and this time it was CW only, on 80 and 40m. No 2m contacts were logged. Again vk2/3/4/5/7, ZL1/2/3.
I drove home on the Brindabella Rd, descending from about 1100m to the Goodradigbee River then climbing back up to “Picadilly Circus” where Brindabella Rd, Mt Franklin Rd and Two Sticks Rd meet, then driving back into Canberra via Uriarra Crossing over the Murrumbidgee River.
The Kenwood TR751A 25w multimode radio for 144 – 148 MHz is well regarded, with a sensitive receiver and good transmit quality. However the pots installed as dual concentric types for the AF Gain, RF Gain, Squelch and RIT functions have a reputation for failing. The manufacturer has discontinued supplying spare parts for these radios as they are now about 30 years old.
A source of replacements was identified in very similar pots stocked as spares for a Ranger CB radio at R&R Communications in the USA. This source was documented by members of the Yahoo Group for TR751 and TR851. (The group recently moved to groups.io).
I ordered and received the replacement pots but had not installed them, the job waited on the back burner while I was preoccupied with other matters. With my interest in portable operations on 2m ssb/cw I realised that this radio could provide the additional power I sometimes wanted (additional over the FT817’s 5 watts) and could be a useful part of my portable operations. I am aware that the increase amounts to only 7dB but sometimes that makes the difference when using small antennas you’ve carried up to a summit and reassembled there.
After removing top and bottom covers, knobs and the front panel cover, I removed the two pots, unplugging the cables from their headers on the PCBs mounted on both pots. Desoldering the old pots from the boards was a long winded process and I found that my solder wick was not working as it should. I suspect the solder originally used has a different ratio of tin:lead and therefore needs slightly higher temperature than the 60:40 I usually use. Eventually the pots were off the boards and the new problem was to fit the replacement pots. The spacing between the three pins of the front pot section and the pins of the rear pot was quite different between old and new pots. I decided to put in small extensions for the pins of the rear pot. This was done using wire that was cut from resistors and capacitors after being soldered onto a PCB for a filter kit. Also the switch connections were different, requiring a jumper to be inserted between two pins on the PCB.
Following reassembly, the new pots appeared to protrude from the front panel much further than the originals did. I found this could be largely resolved by installing an extra nut on the control to effectively position the pot further behind the front panel. The pic following shows the result of this adjustment. A minimal amount of threaded shaft protrudes in front of the mounting panel. The limiting factor was the PCB visible here that is pushed against the assembly behind it, in fact I had to wind this pot a little bit forward because I couldn’t return the front panel assembly fully to its correct position without doing that.
Once back together the radio was tested ok and later I used it for a test on SSB from Black Mt, Canberra. I had a quite successful activation on 2m ssb, making contacts into Sydney (about 270 km) and to Nimmitabel (about 100km) using the TR751 and a loop antenna that had been lent to me by Andrew vk1ad. it was mounted on a short fibreglass pole.
During the testing of the radio I was pleased to see that its current drain on receive was 400 mA, which is slightly less than the FT817. On transmit full power it drew almost 6 amps. No problem for the LIFEPO4 battery normally used, which has a 20C rating, meaning it can provide 20 times its AH rating. 4.2 x 20 is 85 amps. the relatively low current drain on receive means this radio is a good option for using on battery powered activations. By comparison the IC706 or FT857 style radio would draw twice that current on receive. On transmit, the bias level of the final amplifier would double that current even before producing any RF. Turning the power level down on the higher power radio to its minimum of say 5 watts does not change that bias current, so running those higher powered radios at low power is very inefficient. It doesn’t matter if you only want 30 minutes of operation, but the same power consumed by the 706 in 30 minutes of reception would run the TR751 for at least double and possibly 4 times the 30 minutes.
Icom IC703 portable HF multimode transceiver
This rig was my primary HF rig for SOTA and parks activations. But it developed a problem in the VFO circuitry, behaving as though the dial was slipping. Turning the dial would normally result in the frequency changing continuously. However the fault was causing the frequency to freeze occasionally. I didn’t mind turning the dial a bit more but I thought that if some of the components in the encoder were faulty, maybe more would be faulty before too long and I should replace it.
I ordered the part from Icom Australia and it turned up after a predicted delay as it had been out of stock. I was told the part is used in multiple other radios including the recently released IC9700. It was reassuring to know the part was still in production.
The vfo encoder is located in the control panel for the radio. It just sends up and down signals back to the main unit. It is based on a set of LEDs and detectors, I assume light dependent resistors, arranged In a circular pattern at regular spacings around a central shaft. A circular disc with a set of holes or windows cut into it at specific positions corresponding to the LEDs allows light to pass through from the LED to the LDR. The vfo tuning direction is deduced from the timing of when light is first detected by each sensor, compared with a twin located slightly more or less than 180 degrees further around the circle. If the sequence of light detection is the sensor at 0 degrees followed by the sensor at 181 degrees, the dial must be turning clockwise so the frequency is required to move up. and vice versa when the dial is turned anti clockwise. Well, that’s how i understand it. The entire assembly is sealed into a small package looking like a potentiometer and has a cable terminated in a small plug.
The control panel for the IC 703 is very similar to that of the 706. I think it’s likely that the 706 front panel looks identical inside and this fix would apply to that radio series too.
Top right is the grey RJ series microphone connector, below that and behind the shield plate is the encoder. I unscrewed the nut on the encoder first. The PCB has to be lifted out of the case, a procedure I performed with a lot of care for fear of damaging the board or traces on it. Once the PCB is removed the encoder can be removed and the new one installed in its place. I removed the mike connector to get easier access to the encoder.
After that I replaced the knob on the encoder shaft but it was loose and i couldn’t see how it was attached. Many knobs on Icom radios have a grub screw inside the knob, covered up by the rubberised section around the knob. Removing the rubber revealed nothing of the sort. Looking for help on the web I found reference to a small spring steel clip inside the knob. There was none inside mine. Then I found it on the workbench where it had fallen out when I originally removed the knob. A bit of careful work with tweezers put it back into the knob and the knob then went back onto the shaft and stayed there.
Reassembled, the acid test was to turn it back on. Initially it appeared to be dead. I recalled a reset procedure and tried that without effect. Reading the manual page on the reset I found the correct procedure was to hold the up and down buttons then press power. Following that procedure the rig came alive, to my great relief, and I was able to tune in some broadcast stations using a 50cm piece of wire.
I now have to take the rig out for a field test to confirm it is back to normal.
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.
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.
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.
To get back into some sota activations I drove out to Braidwood and walked up Mt Gillamatong. I set up the gear and antenna near the trig point but was disappointed to find high noise levels and an almost unusable 20m band. And I had left my logging tablet at home as well as the 2m fm antenna – but that would have been unusable anyway as the FM HT did not work, see below.
I had a contact with ZL1BYZ on 20m band cw, no other callers there. Went to 40m and worked an S2S with Peter VK3PF/p (very low at that stage) and Steve VK7CW at better strength, called for a while on ssb on 7090, no replies. Noticed a JA had been spotted on Sotawatch calling cq on 18 mhz so went up there, scraped in a contact. Then worked another Japanese operator at a home location. Geoff ZL3GA then, still on CW on 18 mhz and by now it was after 0000 UTC so a second contact with ZL1BYZ was made.
All up, only 7 contacts, all on CW, despite some time spent calling CQ on SSB.
A message from Canberra chasers asked about 2m FM possibilities. I had the HT but its battery was flat and I had no spare. Sorry about that, guys.
After getting back to the car I visited the Braidwood Bakery and ordered a pepper steak pie and a coffee.
The next day after arriving in Pamplona and the activation with Guru EA2IF arrangements were made for another activation which would be NV-119 San Cristobal. This activation was made with Ignacio EA2BD. He had already activated this summit during this year.
The antenna, one I had borrowed from Andrew VK1AD, was a LNR EFHW and was setup as an end fed half wave for 20m.
With the antenna fed directly from the KX3 it was showing a SWR or 2.5 so I put the Elecraft T1 into the circuit, producing a 1.0 swr for the kx3.
This setup enabled me to make a number of contacts on both cw and SSB, on 20m. As it was the middle of the day we did not expect any dx and there was no signal from the USA or further afield.
I record here my sincere appreciation of the effort made by Ignacio to help me with this activation, also he drove twice to Roncesvalles, the second time was to retrieve the logging tablet which I accidentally left at the Bar there.
After the activation I was invited to join Ignacio and his wife and daughter for lunch at their apartment. This was a very pleasant occasion for me and I felt very honoured to be a guest in their home.
I built up the Pixie kit, having bought it a year ago or more, just to see how it worked and intended to try it out on a SOTA activation.
Being invited to accompany Andrew VK1AD to Mt Marulan for a return visit, having done the same in December 2018, I decided to take the Pixie along to see if it could make even one contact with 40m conditions as dicey as they are at present.
I set up the station to use the Pixie, with the ZS6BKW doublet fed through an Elecraft T1 tuner and the choke balun recently built. (Did I write about that? Maybe not.)
I listened for a minute or two on the Pixie’s 7023 khz and could hear VK2ARZ calling CQ with a very high offset frequency, my guess was that he was on 7025 so would not hear me operating on 7023. The Pixie’s receiver is a direct conversion receiver without any inherent selectivity so if my ears had 10 khz frequency response I would have heard stations out to that offset in both directions, ie. higher and lower in actual frequency, eg. A signal on 7013 would produce a 10 khz frequency difference so the 10 khz would be coming through the receiver, as would a 7033 khz signal also produce a 10 khz audio frequency. My 69 year old ears don’t have that bandwidth any more, they have an inbuilt low pass filter. 🙂
So I spotted myself on Sotawatch using the vk port-a-log software on the android tablet, called CQ using the little blue hand key, listened, then called again. A big signal loomed in the earbuds and it sounded like a bug being used. Was it Steve VK7CW, yes, it certainly was, after the call letters marched across my ears and I logged the contact using the tablet. What strength was he? I didn’t know, sounded pretty good so I gave him 579. Received 559 in reply, not bad for half a watt. Steve said he was running an FT817 at 5 watts out. Monster power.
Three more contacts, regulars John VK4TJ in Toowoomba, Peter VK3PF in Churchill Victoria, and finally Paul VK3HN from Melbourne made it into the Pixie log and I’d qualified the summit in 11 minutes using a Pixie half watt, two transistor + one IC transceiver, that had cost me $9 for the kit.
In between the contacts I could hear some weak signals and I wondered how strong they were, perhaps they were others who I wasn’t hearing well enough to copy. So after completing the 4th contact and calling another CQ just to be sure I had worked all who were there, I transferred the antenna to the KX3 and had a better listen to the weak signals. They were weak on that radio too, and I think they were dx stations, probably US operators in a contest of some kind.
The rest of the activation was fairly straightforward using the KX3 and the same doublet antenna, some contacts on 80m, most on 40m, the Shires contest was running so I had to look up my shire, I quoted GM2 (Goulburn Mulwaree) so I hoped that was correct.
Edit: updated image links following migration of blog to WordPress.