Having seen the Steve Weber designed compact transceivers on the web and having seen an MTR owned by VK1FB, I was delighted to find one for sale on vkclassifieds.net.au recently. After duly receiving it and waiting for my birthday to pass (due to my wife’s insistence on waiting for the actual day to receive gifts), I wanted to test it from home and learn the menu system, which like the radio itself, is very compact.
Using my home antenna, a fan dipole with elements for 80, 40, 20 and 10m, I connected the radio to power (a 3S Lifepo4), headphones and the antenna and turned it on. It sent the number 4 in morse, saying it was on 40m. I tuned it around the CW end of the band for a while and tried a few of the control functions. Then I returned it to the default 7030 frequency by switching it off and on again (where have I heard that before?)
Then in the headphones I heard “cq sota de vk5cz” which was Ian at summit vk5/ne-095 in the north east of South Australia. I listened to his contact with VK3PF and then heard him ask QRZ? (“who is calling”, or “is there anyone else there?”) to which I responded with my callsign. He replied immediately with a good signal report. I gave him a report and then told him this was my first contact with the MTR3B. He acknowledged that and wished me good luck. I returned the greetings and signed off.
Yes the new radio works despite being smaller than my morse paddle. It’s the blue box in this pic. Produces about 3-5 watts on 7, 10 and 14 MHz amateur bands. The Mountain Topper Radio 3B.
Ian/Buhd vk5cz posted to facebook a comment that this contact was the highlight of the activation, which was great to read. And later he also published a video clip in which the contact can be heard taking place.
A day later I had the MTR connected again, this time on 14060. I tuned it up to 14062 and there was a familiar callsign, VK5CZ, in contact with someone. Looking at SOTAWATCH.ORG I saw that Ian had recently called CQ from another SOTA summit. I waited until the contact was finished, then heard him send QRZ? and again sent my callsign. Back he came with a 559 with QSB (fading) report, which was pretty good. I told him it was the MTR again, which he was pleased to hear about.
Now I need a contact on the remaining band provided by the MTR, 10 MHz, for which I need to make some alternative arrangements as my home antenna does not have a suitable impedance on that band. The MTR is designed for a 50 ohm non-reactive load. I will route it through an antenna matchbox which can be adjusted to present a 50 ohm impedance to the transmitter.
So far so good. I am very impressed by the MTR and look forward to many lightweight activations with it.
My SOTA friend and collaborator Andrew Moseley VK1AD has proposed a QRP challenge for 2017. He is going to aim to use 2.5w when activating summits during 2017.
I have started to do the same and my activation at Mt Ginini on 27th December was made at 2.5w for SSB and 0.5w on CW. I made about 20 contacts and although some chasers found lower signals a problem, I not only qualified the summit on several bands, I also qualified with CW at 0.5w. One contact was with Steve VK7CW who also used an FT817 at 0.5w, the lowest power setting of the radio.
The radio used was an FT817, powered by an internal LIPO 3S battery (windcamp). I had a spare battery but it was not needed. The 817 will not be as efficient in terms of output power/DC power consumed, as the bias current on the final amplifier stage will remain the same as it would be at 5w.
A fringe benefit from using lower transmitted power is that battery life will be improved. I had previously used the 817 with the internal battery at Mt Mundoonen on 26th December for a short activation. I did not recharge the battery after that activation as it was only used for 5 contacts plus some listening. After the Mt Ginini operation, the battery voltage according to the meter on the 817 was above 11v. It can go down to 10v without any problem for the 817.
Although we were on the downward slope of sunspot activity, making HF communications less certain, there are still sunspots and occasional sporadic E openings on HF bands.
It will be interesting to see how the QRP challenge goes during 2017. Progress reports will be made by both Andrew VK1AD and me.
After activating Boboyan Range successfully the week before, I wanted to grab a few winter bonus points before they ended. Pheasant Hill is located west of the Boboyan Road, almost at the southern border of the ACT(VK1) with NSW (VK2) in southeastern Australia. It is in ecalytpus forest country and is 1455m above sea level.
So on this Saturday morning I drove along Boboyan road to the parking area of Brayshaw’s hut (dating back a hundred years or more) and hiked westward through the forest with the sounds of nature around me.
About 20 minutes in you pass this sign
After turning to the north and heading up the hill the forest is thicker in places.
Finally I reached the summit area and found a suitable clearing with a handy tree stump for one of my poles.
I used one pole for the linked dipole which can be used on any of the 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 or 10 metre bands. The other pole supported the 6m vertical and a 2m dipole offset from the pole on a short length of 19mm PVC conduit.
Conditions on the bands were not bad. I made 4 contacts into New Zealand (ZL) on 20m, several “local” contacts on 2m FM back into Canberra using the dipole mounted at about 3m above ground. Only one contact on 6m, with VK1MA.
Originally in our sota summit list this one was named Pleasant hill, but that was corrected later. As Ian VK1DI remarked after first activating this summit, it is indeed a pleasant hill.
I was tempted to stay there longer but the wind was rising and I didn’t want to be caught in rain. So after about 2 hours I packed up and headed home.
Walking distance: it took me about 45 mins to reach the summit from the car park. The return trip was a bit faster.
Permissions: not required – it’s in the Namadgi National Park and day trips are automatically OK.
The SOTA party on 2nd August was almost washed out, with all night rainfall and rain continuing in the morning. By about 8am though, there was some sign of the rain easing for a while. Some of us decided it was too risky as we are generally not prepared to operate in the rain, but others decided to activate though not on the original sites.
I changed from my planned activation of Castle Hill to Mt Stromlo. A retreat could be made from Mt Stromlo within 15 minutes whereas at Castle hill it would take more like 30 minutes or more to reach the car, including packing time.
I originally set up on 6m and was about to set up the 10m antenna when two things happened. First I heard Dimitri VK1SV/VK2COW operating at his new home location near Gundaroo on 6m so I had to log contacts with him. Then Mark VK1EM arrived on site, so we organised for him to make the 6m contacts that were available.
The linked dipole went up then, giving us 10m coverage. ALthough not all originally planned activations were on the air, enough were on to keep us busy, with Mt Ainslie (AC040) operators including Marcus VK3TST and Paul VK1ATP, Adan VK1FJAW was at Black Mt (AC042) using 2m fm only (and having trouble with overload in his Baofeng), Roald VK1MTS and John VK1JP were at One Tree Hill (AC035). Then Grant VK4JAZ arrived on Mt Ainslie and it must have been bedlam on that site.
After struggling to make his contacts on Black Mt, Adan decided to join us on Stromlo and was soon there, making his contacts on 2m and 10m.
In among this a few spots turned up on 40m so the antenna was changed over to 40m to work Tony VK3CAT, then a spot turned up on 10m showing Gerard VK2IO, so the antenna was changed back to 10m, but although I even rotated the dipole to favour that direction better, I could hear nothing of Gerard. Should have tried CW.
Finally as lunch time approached, so did the dark clouds so we packed up quickly and were being lightly rained upon by the time we reached our cars.
In something of a compensating operation for the cancelled activation on 2nd August, VK1NAM has alerted for a 3 summit day on 9th August. I am planning a 3 summit day too, activating two of the same summits and another different one. Aiming for 10m/6m contacts on each, so hoping for fine enough weather to let it happen.
In addition, there will be a combined VK1/VK2 focussed SOTA QSO party on Sunday 30th August. Already, interested VK1/2/3 activators are making plans. Why not join in? VK4/5/6/7/8 activators would be welcomed with many potential contacts…
Andrew VK1NAM and I set off for Booroomba Rocks and were watching the weather as it seemed likely to rain some time during the day. But as it turned out there was a locked gate several km away from the parking area with a sign advising people to keep out of the area. This was probably due to fallen trees, slippery rocks on the ascent or other hazards.
A quick evaluation of the alternatives along Boboyan Road resulted in the choice of Boboyan Range VK1/AC-044, which Andrew VK1NAM had activated recently but I had never been to. Other options were either going to be longer walks or likely to be unsuitable.
Having parked just off the road we headed up the hill finding our way around various trees and parting the undergrowth. Half way up the first section of the trip was this pair of trees making a grinding noise as they moved with the wind.
After checking our location with the GPS we were eventually high enough to be inside the Activation Zone (within 25m of the top) so we selected a small clearing with a suitable log and set up the gear.
We were happy to be able to add this site to our 6m/10m tally, including a contact with WH6WI in Hawaii, who was also pleased to make a contact with us using both his home station radio (TS480HX) and with his FT817 running 5 watts. He then asked for a CW contact on 28.028 MHz which was readily done.
While operating the FT817 I noticed a small visitor on one of the knobs.
The weather stayed fine though the wind remained gusty.
Some pics of the forest on the way back to the car…
Coming around a corner on the way back to Canberra we found an eagle busily munching on some road kill. I didn’t get my camera on and focussed in time for the photo, unfortunately. By the time of the exposure the eagle had decided he didn’t like visitors, gathered the meal in his claws and took off to the west.
Another successful activation. Thanks to Andrew Moseley VK1NAM for driving and providing the equipment for the activation.
In 2014 the VK1 SOTA group proposed a BBQ and joint activation at Mt Stromlo on 1st Feb, to celebrate the first anniversary of SOTA in VK1. On the day the weather was very hot and the event was called off.
This year the group again decided to have a BBQ at Mt Stromlo, with a joint activation to provide contacts with the summit. The plan was to have either a lunch or evening BBQ and set up a few antennas to allow the group to make radio contacts.
Towards the weekend, it was clear the weather this year was not going to be hot, instead it was likely to rain during the afternoon. Several of the group were unable to make it due to conflicting social engagements so the remaining hopefuls decided to make it a 4pm start and hope for the best re the weather. That turned out to be a mistake as the weather was moderately clear during the day but towards 4pm it looked more like rain every minute.
I had borrowed a 23cm fm mobile rig from Compton VK2HRX who was keen to get chaser points for 23cm and was visiting Canberra that day. So I wanted to make at least a few contacts on 2m FM and on 23cm FM. On 23cm the simplex frequency is 1294.0 MHz.
I arrived on the mountain earlier than 4pm and spoke with Paul VK1ATP on 2m FM soon after. Simon VK1FAAS emailed the VK1 SOTA group suggesting it looked like a cancellation was going to be necessary and I agreed with that as the weather certainly did not support the event we had hoped for. However after some initial thunder and rain visible to the south, it appeared that the main body of rain had passed us by, so I decided to set up the 23cm antenna and the borrowed 23cm fm radio. Paul had arrived on summit by then and was able to observe the 23cm contacts.
After making 3 contacts on 23cm I was looking for a 4th contact so as to qualify the summit on that band. I monitored 2m fm in the hope that someone would call me there offering a contact on 23cm.
With the rain apparently having passed and no apparent imminent thunderstorm, I decided to put up the HF antenna and see how badly the bands were affected by the nearby storms. At this point Paul was tempted to do likewise, but after considering his wife and kids he decided against this and departed, wishing me well on HF.
Once I got the antenna up, 40m sounded ok and after I fixed my antenna (again), prompted by Matt 1MA who thought I was not strong enough at his location about 10 km away, I made 19 contacts on 40m including an S2S (summit to summit) contact with Kevin VK3KAB and Glenn VK3YY. During this period the rain started in earnest and I covered myself as well as the radios with a second tarp. Weird sitting in the rain under tarps talking on the radio. Why didn’t I take a tent…
The radios under the tarp. The logbook with wet pages. It was only just legible the next day for typing up the log.
20m and 12m, ssb and cw
Running out of contacts on 40m I then decided to look at 20m and higher bands. At this point I also decided to send an email to the VK1 mailing list asking (begging) for anyone with 23cm gear to call me on 146.5 as I wanted a 4th contact on 23cm.
Having moved the HF antenna to 20m by disconnecting the two links I spotted myself on 14.310 and called cq, which resulted in 3 contacts into South Australia (VK5). I did not receive further replies so I looked higher in frequency. On 24.9 MHz I heard a strong KH6 (Hawaii) calling CQ on CW and I thought I should at least try a contact. I received a good (579) report from the KH6 which was great as the antenna was still linked for 20m.
The 4th contact on 23cm
Before finishing the KH6 contact I heard Jayson VK1JA calling me on 2m fm. I asked him to stand by a minute while I completed with the KH6. When I went back to Jayson he said he was receiving me well and wanted to try 23cm. We then made a good contact over about 15km to his location in Tuggeranong.
After completing with Jayson I removed the 12m link on the HF antenna and made another contact on 24.9 MHz CW with a Japanese station. These dx contacts were completely unspotted as I was answering their CQs. Their power levels were most likely at least 100 watts or 10 db more than my IC703’s 10 watts, and possibly even higher.
As an anniversary event it was a fizzer but I got some satisfaction from making the 4 contacts on 23cm and handing out some points to SOTA chasers. Also gained some S2S points from working VK3KAB and VK3YY.
Mt Tennent is a prominent mountain at the southern end of the Tuggeranong valley in the Australian Capital Territory. It is visible from the Barton Highway 40km away. It is very visible from my office building in Tuggeranong but I had never climbed it. Its reputation was for being a tough, long walk and a steep climb in places.
The mountain is 1384m above sea level and about 750-800m above the average level in the Tuggeranong Valley. Access for bushwalkers is from the Namadgi Visitor’s Centre carpack just off the Naas road, several km south of the village of Tharwa. The length of the walk is 6.5-7 km each way.
Andrew VK1NAM had planned this trip several weeks earlier and invited me to join him, knowing that I had not activated this summit or ever climbed this mountain. After several changes due to household plans for spring gardening work, I was able to confirm I would join him and I even did some training – several trips to the gym this week included some sessions on the stepper. Ha! some training that was… should have just gone down to the mountain and got serious about it!
So we met at 7:15 am at the Namadgi Visitors Centre and set off across the road and onto the walking path. After a few mild hills along the path, several creek crossings and even one of the dreadful downhill sections (which I dislike because I know that means I have to climb some distance twice) we came to the rock stairs, which accounted for over 1km and about an hour of the climb. Andrew referred to this as Stepper 101, but afterwards I considered it was 301 or the master’s course. About the first 10 minutes may have been equivalent to what I had done on the stepper at the gym.
Here are some photos of the upward trip.
After the stair climb and some easy sections we arrived at the fire trail leading to the top of the mountain. This section was endless and steep going in parts. Finally we were at the summit where there are several buildings housing communications equipment for various emergency services.
I set up the 20m vertical on its squid pole and looked at conditions on 20m using the FT817 on 5w output. Andrew VK1NAM set up his linked dipole and wanted to try 10m dx hoping for contacts into the USA. We both found that radio conditions were unusually quiet with few long distance signals audible. On 10m the best contact was to VK6 (Western Australia) with Anthony VK6MAC. On 20m I made 5 contacts, into VK4 (Queensland), VK5 (South Australia) and VK6 (Western Australia).
Having found 10m so quiet Andrew reconnected his 10m link and went straight to 40m where a number of “local” chasers were keen for contacts (mostly in VK2 New South Wales and VK3 Victoria).
The view from the top speaks for itself. Other pics show parts of the descent.
Again thanks to Andrew VK1NAM for his guidance, good humour and being willing to wait while I caught up. My walking/climbing pace is not quite his. Another great day in the bush and on a summit.
Timings: the upward trip took just over 3 hours and downhill took a bit less. The rock stairs can’t be rushed, for safety reasons.
To support the anniversary activity for SOTA in VK2 I activated three VK2 summits on 6th September.
South Black Range, summit code VK2/ST-006 was first as it was the quickest to get to from my home in Yass. I left home just after 7am and drove to Murrumbateman, then via the Gundaroo road to Bungendore, then to Hoskinstown south of Bungendore. From Hoskinstown I took Forbes Creek road for about 10km until reaching the South Black Range forest trail. The track up to the summit is at about 1200m ASL and heads approx westerly. It is quite narrow at first but opens out gradually. I parked my car about half way up to the summit and proceeded on foot.
There is a huge granite boulder at the summit and I guess surveyors considered that to be the real top of the mountain so they placed the trig point and a summit cairn on top of the boulder.
I set up slightly north of the boulder and soon had my antenna up and the radio buzzing with signals.
It was shortly before 0000 UTC so I ran through the chaser list very quickly, making sure everyone calling had a chance to put this summit into their log for the 5th Sept UTC. Then the same process after 0000. I tried 20m after running out of chasers on 40m. The only contacts made were with VK1 home stations – noticed a spot stating that I could not be heard in northern NSW. At that time I had not yet transmitted on 20m but after I had made a few local contacts, there were no other calls, so clearly conditions on 20m were not supporting longer distances at that time.
After completing the radio operation I packed up and then took a few more pictures of the rock and the forest as I walked back to the car.
A very old ladder, possibly a relic of the original survey placement, was rotting on the ground next to the rock.
I placed my squid pole, about 1.2m length against the rock as a contextual measuring stick. maybe I should have extended the squid pole to its 7m length as a better measure. Something for next time.
Contacts made from this summit: 57
After returning to the “main road”, a gravel forest road, I wanted to use forest roads and trails to Mt Cowangerong, summit code VK2/ST-001. This took me longer than I had expected, the condition of the forest tracks was wet and slightly muddy in places. I was taking my time and not trying anything heroic. Possibly a better map would have made this a quicker trip, however I was enjoying driving a car with better clearance and with 4WD capability.
At Mt Cowangerong I decided to set up on the north side of the weather radar clearing. I had experienced some interference on 40m when operating near the compound last year, so wanted to see whether keeping further away from the building reduced the interference. The spot I chose was just after the power pole you pass on the track up to the summit, several hundred metres short of the compound and about 20m off to the north east of the track, in a clearing of sorts there. I could see the tower through the trees, though my photos only just capture the tower base. This position was very quiet and I had no noticeable interference.
Contacts made from this summit: 35.
After this activation I returned to the car where it was parked down the track, headed to Braidwood and had a welcome cup of coffee with a hot pastie and a danish pastry. There I decided I could still activate Mt Gillamatong, VK2/ST-034 before dark, so I posted an alert on SOTAWATCH for a 20m operation.
My radio friends Andrew VK1NAM and Ian VK1DI had both activated this summit. From the town it looked quite prominent with steep sides. The descriptions of their activations mentioned that it was a steeper climb than they had expected. They are not wrong.
It took me about 30 minutes to get to a point near the top, I estimated about 10m lower than the comms building, so it was within the activation zone.
I set up the 20m vertical and checked SOTAWATCH for activity. I eventually worked a number of European stations including some activators on SOTA summits, which I was very happy about. Also worked Gerard VK2IO on a summit in France. This was done using my IC703 running 10w output.
I heard several other VK activators, working Andrew VK1NAM at the noise level, but was unable to hear VK1MBE who was in the Northern Rivers area of VK2. Others worked included Mike 2E0YYY, always an enthusiastic contact.
Contacts made: 18, including several s2s contacts in Europe and one s2s with VK1NAM. 10 ssb contacts and 8 CW contacts into Europe.
Finally I packed up at about 5:30 local time, 0730 UTC, as it was getting noticeably cooler and I could see that the sunlight was fading as we moved towards sunset. I was on the eastern side of the hill so sunlight was fading even faster.
I got back to the car just before 6pm and was able to SMS my wife and to Andrew VK1NAM, telling them I was back in the car and about to set off home.
The trip home from Braidwood to Yass was about 1H40.
Some pics from Mt Gillamatong.
Total contacts for the day, 112.
SOTA operation is a unique combination of portable operation based on backpacked equipment and antennas, with all power from battery or solar sources. It is nearly always a pleasant experience to operate a backpack radio station from a hilltop.
I highly recommend it as an antidote for the suburban interference blues, a condition endured by many amateur radio operators making it problematic or impossible to operate from the typical suburban block.
See the links section of this blog for information about SOTA world wide and SOTA in Australia.
For the first anniversary of SOTA in VK2 (Australia – New South Wales), a weekend of VK2 SOTA activations is planned for the 6th and 7th September 2014. The usual Sunday activations that are popular are made complicated for some by the coinciding Father’s Day on the first Sunday of September. We might have to celebrate VK2 SOTA on the preceding Sunday in future.
In the past year VK2 has seen 728 activations of 228 summits. Not a bad result for the first year.
About 250 extra summits are under review for addition to the VK2 Summits list. This will fill in some gaps left by our initial survey in 2013. Corrections to a few summit locations will also be made as well as summit name changes. More details when the process is completed.
A long weekend travelling from Canberra to Morwell and Churchill, Victoria, via Mt Delegate VK3/VG-034, Goonmirk Rocks VK3/VG-048 and returning via Mitchell River NP, Lind NP and Coopracambra NP.
For this year’s trip to the Gippstech conference in Churchill, Victoria, I travelled with my brother Chris VK1DO and had selected several SOTA summits for activations on the southerly leg of the trip. I used the IC703 for all radio activations, powered by a 4200 mAH LiFe battery. The battery was recharged after two activations.
We left the Canberra area on time at about 7:15am and arrived at the Nimmitabel Pie Shop on time just after 9am. Powered by coffee and food we forged on to Mt Delegate where we were on air by 11:10 local time. 30 contacts were made on 40m by 11:46, followed by one contact on 20m with VK6MB.
Leaving Mt Delegate we turned southwards at the T junction and headed to Bendoc, then to Goonmirk Rocks, by continuing southward along the Bendoc-Orbost road. This was a good gravel road and we made good time along it to the junction with Gunmark Road. The parking spot for Goonmirk Rocks is about 10km along Gunmark road, travelling east and south. Again this road is a reasonable gravel road in fair condition. We were travelling in a comfortable 2WD car.
At Goonmirk Rocks we parked near the gate on Coast Road (where the gate post had apparently been ripped out of the ground) and walked about 2km up to the operating position on the road next to the summit peak. It is a gentle slope and an easy walk.
Starting on 40m again, we logged 26 contacts followed by 4 on 20m, including VK5WG, VK6MB, s58AL and VK2KTT. This site is within the Errinundra NP, VKFF-158. See ParksNPeaks for details of SOTA summits/National Parks names/VKFF numbers. The raw data about each summit can be found on the tab labelled “Data tables”.
Left Goonmirk Rocks at 2:20, back at the car by about 2:40, then almost 2 hours on the continuously winding road to Orbost, where we stopped for refreshments. There is no point trying to make highway speeds on that one. Calling it the Bonang “Highway” is an example of country humour, I think.
The leg from Orbost to Morwell took about 2h45, travelling mostly at 100 km/h. The main towns passed are Bairnsdale, Sale and Traralgon.
The pub dinner at the Top Pub in Morwell has become a standard feature of the Gippstech weekend, with the usual BS sessions where tall tales are told about the DX worked, the DX just missed, the QRM that made it impossible to get the DX etc. Plus the food portions served are generous.
The Gippstech technical presentations started at 9:00 on Saturday morning in a lecture theatre at Federation University, Churchill (previously known as the Gippsland campus of Monash University Melbourne). Ably chaired by Peter Freeman VK3PF the sessions proceeded throughout the day, punctuated by coffee breaks, with some new and used equipment on display and for sale. The transverters designed by Graham vk3XDK were on display with the Eastern Zone club’s table offering printed and CD versions of past proceedings.
Following dinner on Saturday night and a morning of more technical presentations, a pizza lunch marked the end of the conference and after saying our farewells to the large number of friends we set off back up the highway. Due to overnight snow, the SOTA activations considered before the weekend were dropped in favour of activating Mitchell River National Park for both the VKFF award and for the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks award. I had discussed several possible National Parks with Peter VK3PF on Saturday night and on Sunday morning Peter kindly presented me with notes and Google trip instructions for three such parks. Thanks again, Peter.
Following those instructions we left the Princes highway between Sale and Bainsdale, drove about 25km up a sealed road, then about 5km on gravel to find the Mitchell River National Park. With the squid pole attached to a fence post and the radio on another fence post, we made 17 contacts on 40m.
The next morning after leaving Orbost we were travelling towards Cann River. The highway passes Lind National Park so it was dead easy to stop on the side of the highway, locate the antenna and radio inside the park and make 13 contacts on 40m. From Cann River travelling north on the Monaro Highway, the Coopracambra NP is located to the east of the highway and a short drive up the forest road took us to a T junction where there was ample space to stop and make another 17 contacts.
The activations of summits and national parks this weekend made a big difference to the road trip. I always enjoy a field operation, no matter how short or limited it is. The SOTA and National Parks angles add a motivation to it and having the stations worked say how much they appreciate the contacts is also rewarding, adding to the fun.
Equipment used: Icom IC703, 10 watts output. Antenna: linked dipole made using chopping board insulators, spade lugs and a BNC connector at the centre insulator. Power: LiFe (Lithium iron) battery pack 4200 mAH.