Category Archives: SOTA

Mt Rob roy, vk1/ac-031 on 15th May 2020

I had been postponing a repeat visit to this summit ever since my only activation in 2013. The first 1km or so is very steep and is quite a challenge. However, with many of the VK1 summits inaccessible due to the Namadgi National Park closure, which followed the long running bush fire in the summer of 2019/20, I decided that this was my chance to revisit the summit.

Setting off from a laneway in the suburb of Banks at around 8:30 one frosty autumn morning I soon warmed up and had removed two layers by the end of the first kilometre.

The walk is about 5km, similar to the Bullen Range walk. It took me about 1 hr 40min this time.

After reaching the trig point, I set up the HF antenna and looked for contacts. There were plenty, mainly on 40m but some also worked on 80m and 20m. I did listen on 17m but signals were very low.

40m produced the most contacts, which were again mostly on CW, but with a few on SSB.

On 2m FM a few local contacts were made with Andrew VK1AD, Wade VK1MIC and another callsign who was new to me.

Weather: it was a fine day and was close to zero Celsius when I left the car. After the first 1km I had warmed up so much I removed my jacket and the fleece, leaving just a long sleeved cotton work shirt. That was enough until I had cooled off at the top of the climb, when I put the fleece back on. Sitting in the shade of a large tree I got cold after a while and was glad the sun moved enough to move the shade off to the east. By 11am it was about 10-12C, much more comfortable. No wind.

At 11 AM and after 22 contacts I was thinking of lunch so I packed up and returned to the car. Again it was well over an hour for the return leg of this summit activation.

On the way down I noticed I could see a number of SOTA summits to the north. Tuggeranong hill, Mt Taylor, Black Mt and Mts Ainslie and Majura in the far distance, about 25km away.

other SOTA summits visible from the Rob Roy access track

Overall I think this activation was a bit harder than I had expected despite having been here before, in 2013. After a 5km walk (each way) there is a certain amount of satisfaction in having made the summit and qualified it for the SOTA points.

Qualified the summit for SOTA using both CW and SSB. Contacts made on 80, 40 and 20m. Then also on 146.5 FM, local contacts using a 5w hand held radio and a half wave dipole antenna (flowerpot style). On HF my radio was an Elecraft KX3 and a ZS6BKW style 28m wire antenna, fed in the centre by a 11m length of 300 ohm tv ribbon. The feedline was connected to the KX3 via a home made 1:1 choke balun.

Mt Rob Roy is located to the east of the suburb of Banks in south Canberra. It is located inside the Rob Roy nature reserve which has a code in the WWFF award scheme. Access to it is open, though some of the walking path goes through grazing property so walkers are expected to close gates they open and keep to the path.

Mt Coolum, VK4/SE-114, 1st December 2019

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!

Here are some photos of our trip.

The path up this hill is like a stone staircase

Wonderful views from halfway up

Jack sent a text to Mum from the top

Looking northwards up the coast towards Noosa

Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026 on 16/11/2019

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.

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The walk up to Booroomba Rocks features large rocks like these

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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.

Mt Gillamatong, 2nd Nov 2019

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 KX3 in the sun, unfortunately

Not my dish

Base of the pole with guys

There’s an eagle up there to the right of the pole

On the way down the hill, looking east towards Braidwood

Activations in Spain continued

Thanks to the efforts of Guru EA2IF and Ignacio EA2BD I was able to activate more summits in Spain together with Juan EA1AER. Juan met me on the 21st of September, a Saturday in Léon, a very beautiful, historic city. Then he came back on 23rd Sept to take me for a trip out into some beautiful country north east of Leon.

The summits we went to were EA1/LE-197 and EA1/LE-165. These are north east of Leon requiring about two hours drive to reach the first.

The first required a good climb to reach the summit. From where the car was parked I actually doubted that it was possible to reach the activation zone. It looked steep and narrow. However I thought Juan had activated this in the past and assumed this was a well known summit. The climb started out as a mild stroll up a forest path then up some steps formed with wooden risers. I climbed up the lower sections quite easily, having just walked for almost 500 km in the previous 3 weeks.

Then it became a steep climb up earth and rock steps with a chain on the left for assistance. This was slower!

At the top the view was breathtaking. I could see the road but not the car as it was obscured by trees. It all looked a long way down. My photos probably don’t show it well enough.

The first few photos are mine. Then I have added some of Juan’s photos.

Some photos from Juan’s website are copied here too.

After erecting the end fed 20m wire it was tuned for best output power on the 817 and I called CQ on 20m Cw. Contacts flowed quickly. Then Juan made more contacts.

Finally we packed up and ate some lunch. Just as we were preparing to start the descent I received a message from Ignacio EA2BD asking if we were still on the air. I had to say no, as everything had been packed away. Disappointing as I would have liked to give him a new summit unique.

Juan remarked that I would be the first activator of the summit. I then realised that my earlier assumption was incorrect. It had not been activated before and it was the first time Juan had been there.

Juan then showed me some more of the sights in the valleys of this area.

We then went to another summit but the contacts made from this one didn’t qualify for SOTA.

This activation is also described on Juan’s blog at: https://ea1aer.blogspot.com/2019/09/con-vk1da-en-pica-de-ten.html which is written in Spanish (use Chrome browser for an approximate translation).

Here is a photo of most of the group of Leon hams who met us on the second summit, partly to meet me and partly to visit the club’s repeater site.

SOTA activations in Spain (3)

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.

Ignacio and I pose for the selfie

Yes I’m having fun…

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.

Thanks again, Ignacio EA2BD.

SOTA activations in Spain (2)

After reaching Pamplona and finding a hotel for some welcome relative luxury compared with the 8-16 double bunks in the bedrooms of hostels (typical of the low cost accommodation on the Camino) I had arranged to meet Guru EA2IF so we could activate a nearby summit,  Mt. Erreniega EA2/NV-092.

In fact he parked near my hotel and I easily found him when I left the front door. He was nearby and waving to me. So we set off towards the summit, chatting about SOTA, radios, antennas etc as radio hams do.

Arriving at the summit it was easy to set up the antenna and the FT817 with atu for 20m. Conditions were not as good as they had been three days earlier, but I made more than enough contacts to qualify the summit. As I had worked Ignacio EA2BD at this summit in 2018 this activation made this summit a “complete” (ie. worked and activated).

Guru was trying to make contacts using an economy HT on 439 MHz. There were no replies.

In an attempt to let him make at least one valid contact on 439 fm we walked down the hill far enough to be out of the activation zone. Guru returned to the top and called me using the ft817. I could hear the signal from the FT817 but the HT was transmitting so little power that the reverse path did not work. I walked back up the hill and was within 10m of the other radio before the HT was heard. Clearly a fault in the transmitter.

On the way down we passed the Alto Perdon with its monument to pilgrims and Guru told me I would pass that on my way out of Pamplona on Monday. You can find my pictures of the monument etc on my walking blog. Https://Walkdontrun.travel.blog. Look for the post about departing from Pamplona, day 7.

We then visited the site of a contest station owned by local hams and I admired the rotary antennas etc. then we went to his home for a short time, then to a local club for a meal and of course a longer chat about the same subjects.

I first contacted Guru about the possibility of activations in this area. Thanks to Guru not only for the advice but the hospitality and for taking me up for those activations.

The feedpoint for the EFHW used on hf

Guru setting up the uhf antenna

Evidence of my presence on the hilltop

More evidence

SOTA activations in Spain (1)

While planning a visit to Spain to walk the Camino Frances or the French Way, a popular walking route following the legendary path of pilgrims walking to Santiago for religious reasons, I made contact with two radio amateurs in Pamplona to ask about suitable SOTA activations in that area. I received enthusiastic responses and offers to take me up to several suitable summits.

I set up a WhatsApp chat group to make liaison simpler once I was in the area. I pre-purchased a European SIM card for my phone to be sure of having local coverage.

The first summit I was hoping to activate was ea2/nv012 with the amazing name Ortzanzurieta which is a basque name with very difficult pronounciation for an Aussie. I had several goes at it. The Z is not said as it is in English.

This summit was a few km to the east of the walking path (Camino) and I asked my EA contacts whether I could consider activating it during the day’s walk. I received advice that it would be a big ask at the end of a difficult day. The Camino goes through some lovely country especially in those mountains but it is not “a walk in the park”. There are some long slow climbs for weary legs.

However Ignacio EA2BD offered to drive from Roncesvalles and take me up to this summit. I took up his offer immediately.

After walking about 17km from Orisson, over the Pyrenees and the F/EA border, I could only agree with the advice. I was tired and needed a shower and fresh clothes before I could consider getting into a clean car.

So by about 5pm that day I was happily riding with Ignacio and Jorge EA2LU on the way up to this unpronounceable summit. The weather was suitable and although I had my radio gear with me, Jorge offered me the use of his kx2 and multiband end fed antenna.

The 20m band was cooperating and I made 28 contacts around Europe and into the US.

VK1DA and EA2LU Jorge setting up next to the trig

Ignacio Ea2bd Jorge EA2LU and me

After a long day of walking I made lots of mistakes sending cw but I was having fun

Jorge using another rig on 40m

All photos by Ignacio Ea2bd.

Many thanks to Ignacio for his generosity in driving over from Pamplona and waiting patiently for me to be ready for this activation. It was a huge day for me and adding a new SOTA association and summit to my activations was a bonus.

South Black Range SOTA and park activation on 13cm band – 15th June 2019

Having received an offer from Ted VK1BL to help me find and fix the problem in my 13cm transverter, I spent an evening with him on 13th June. Moving through the various functional blocks in the transverter we found

  • The receiver was working quite ok, it was very close to the right frequency and was fairly sensitive, hearing -120 dbm from the HP sig gen pretty well
  • The output from the PLO was good and at a level of +7 dbm as recommended for the mixer
  • The output from the sequencer board, which includes attenuators and a level setting control for the IF signal, 144 MHz in this case, was working well and we calibrated that at -10 dbm for input to the mixer, with 0.5w drive on 144 mhz from the ft817
  • The output from the mixer and filter was at the expected level, about -13 dbm
  • The output from the tx IF amplifier/driver was +10 dbm, which was adequate for the power amplifier
  • The power amplifier had the correct negative bias and positive voltage on the correct terminals
  • But the power output to the antenna socket was zero.
  • The power output from the amplifier (before the relay) was about +35 dbm (approx 2.5 watts)
  • The relay board was examined and was found that the DC to the relay coil was intermittent. Resoldering the pins of the relay, a surface mount type, fixed that intermittent and made it a reliable connection. The output to the antenna socket was then +35dbm or 2.5w.
  • Transverter considered fixed.

With that result I discussed the possibility of an activation on Saturday morning to prove it in the field. Andrew VK1AD offered to activate Mt Stromlo and I decided to visit South Black Range. Coincidentally it was the day when bonus points commenced for VK2 summits above 1200m, so I half expected to find some snow on the higher parts of this summit, as it had recently snowed down to about 900m.

No snow, quite cold at about 3 or 4C when I got there, but it warmed up to about 8C by midday.

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FT817 in foreground, transverters and tripod holding 1296 yagi at rear

After initial contacts on 144 then 1296 we switched over to 2403 MHz and found we were able to make easy contact, my signal received a 5×8 report from VK1AD and I received his signal at an indicated strength 5.

Note: the distance of this contact was about 47.5 km, not bad for 2.5 watt transmitters. The locators of the two summits are QF44MQ (Stromlo) and QF44SN. The visual horizon is 35km so this is beyond “line of sight”. But how far over line of sight is it?

According to my iphone app DistBear the distance between centres of the two grid subsquares is 47.5km. So 2.4 GHz worked fine, well over the visual horizon. To get a more accurate distance I used the website https://sotamaps.org, using the “range mapping” option, we get a more accurate measure of the distance, at 48.7 km. I am sure there will be longer contacts made on this band using the same equipment.

The antenna in use for 2.4 GHz at my end is shown in the photo below attached directly to the 2.4 ghz transverter, was the SG-LAB PCB antenna, a 2 element HB9CV type on loan from Andrew VK1AD. The 2403 MHZ equipment was placed on a rock and turned so that the antenna pointed roughly towards Mt Stromlo, albeit through many trees nearby.

Two UHF transverters
The SG Lab transverter for 1296 is shown here sitting on the box containing the home made transverter for 2.4 ghz. These two transverters are, ironically, equivalent in power output and receiver function though they operate on different bands.

After completing the contact on 2.4 GHz I moved to HF and ran a few contacts on 7023 khz using the Pixie half watt morse transceiver (on a 50 x 50 mm PCB), then moved to the KX3 radio and ran contacts on 40m and 80m SSB and CW. I left the summit just after 12 noon, after spending 2 hours there. The temperature had risen to 8C by then.

Pixie PCB transceiver, battery, key, ATU, balun

Qualifying a summit – making 4 interstate contacts – using the 500 milliwatt Pixie morse transceiver hi hi

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.

Pixie 500 mw transceiver as built above, and as used, below

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L-R: Elecraft T1 tuner top left, Pixie PCB, 3S LIPO battery, cwmorse.us hand key. The Pixie board is about 2″ x 2″ or 50mm sq. 

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.