Short activation at Mt Gillamatong vk2/st-034

A surprise invitation to a trip over to Braidwood with a bonus of “you can walk up that hill if you like” resulted in a short activation on Monday 24th October.

The climb up the eastern slope is always interesting, it presents a 3 dimensional challenge of not only climbing the bit in front of you, but also getting you to a place that will be easier to keep on climbing with a minimum of blockage by trees, rocks etc.  The rocks are big ones.

Eventually I arrived at the summit and found a clear area near one of the compounds containing an apparently disused dish staring pointlessly at a position in the sky.

I had enough time for a handful of contacts on 40m ssb and then packed up and headed down to where my patient wife was happily reading a book.

Amateur Radio field and portable

Using the Wifi hotspot from an iphone for the android tablet

I was having some trouble getting reliable linking to provide the android tablet (a Lenovo Tab3/7) with internet access while on hilltops or in parks.

A bit of research found a lot of wave-away-the-problems type of solutions, which didn’t solve it at all.

Finally I discovered a comment about the type of hotspot that the iphone actually provides.  It is not an infrastructure type but an adhoc hotspot.  And more to the point, it does not advertise it continuously.  It only advertises the hotspot for a limited time after being enabled, or after you visit the Personal Hotspot option in the Settings menu.

After some experimentation I now find that the tablet happily links to the iphone every time, provided I go to the Settings > Personal Hotspot item in the iphone and then wait about 10 seconds.  Nothing else needs to be done, provided the wifi password has been set in the tablet.

The other solution I have used from some hilltops is to take a personal hotspot device with me.  As my phone provider uses a provider that does not have as good coverage as Telstra, this provides my tablet with excellent network coverage from places without any service on the other network.

Here’s a pic of the hotspot lashed to a tree on the Boboyan Range summit, 40 km south of Canberra.


Telstra hotspot, tree mount variety.
Amateur Radio

SOTA updates and milestones

VK2 Update December 2014

The VK2 update was finally completed in time for 1st December. Even then, some summit name changes were not included in the final documentation sent to the SOTA management team for inclusion in the central website. This was my mistake but at least the approved summit position corrections and new summits are now available for use. The net increase was less than originally mooted, but we now have 1219 summits. Many have not yet been activated so there is still a chance to put your own flag on those.

My own activations in October-December were Bobbara Mt, Mt Coree, Devils Peak, Webbs Ridge, Tuggeranong Hill, Mt Ginini, Mt Stromlo, Mt Mundoonen (twice), Livingstone Hill and Mt Taylor.

Bobbara Mt, vk2/ST-044 11th October

This is a few km west of Binalong and is easy to reach. There is a gate to the cow pasture where there is an access road (for approved vehicles only). The walk uphill is easy enough and like others, I cut the corner and walked up a worn path used by animals rather than going the long way round. Up top is an Airservices Australia radar and various other services, none of which were a problem to me. Bowning Hill near Yass was visible on the horizon. The town of Binalong is visible down in the valley nearby. I operated from the eastern side of the hill, hoping for good conditions on 20m long path to EU. It was not so good.

Mt Coree VK1/AC-023 25th October

This mountain is visible from many parts of Canberra on the western edge of the ACT. It has steep slopes on all sides and the access road has been repaired by adding rather large rocks to the road, which your tyres crunch as you pass over. On top is a fire tower and various other radio services. I set up on the trig. The wind was strong and I configured the linked dipole to provide a slight bias in the wind direction so that the squid pole had some support. All except one contact were on 7 MHz, the other contact was on 21 MHz with Andrew VK1NAM as a test.


One end of the linked dipole, showing the re-installed antenna mounting pole.
One end of the linked dipole, showing the re-installed antenna mounting pole.

Canberra in the distance, Cotter dam (raised recently) visible
Canberra in the distance, Cotter dam (raised recently) visible

Squid pole bending to the east
Squid pole bending to the east

Trig legs with fire tower.  note the lack of vegetation and the clear view to the nearby VK2 summits that are worth many more points
Trig legs with fire tower. note the lack of vegetation and the clear view to the nearby VK2 summits that are worth many more points

The operations desk at Mt Coree
The operations desk at Mt Coree

Devil’s Peak VK2/ST-003 and Webb’s ridge VK2/ST-005, 31 Oct and 1 Nov.

These summits are both just to the west of the ACT/NSW (VK1/VK2) border. Devil’s peak is a bush bash of several km taking 30-40 mins. Webb’s ridge has a fire trail going over the top of it.
I accompanied Al VK1RX on this trip and we eventually made the minimum number of contacts required on Webb’s Ridge before packing up in the face of oncoming thunderstorms. We also saw a young snake on Devil’s peak, probably an eastern brown snake. We did not discuss it with the snake.
Used Al’s IC706 on hf and Al’s HT on vhf.

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Tuggeranong Hill VK1/AC-038 on 13 Nov

This hill is readily accessed via Callister Cres at the top of the suburb of Theodore. 20 ssb contacts made. IC703.

VK1DA pictured in his natural environment, on a hill with a radio
VK1DA pictured in his natural environment, on a hill with a radio

Mt Ginini VK1/AC-008 on 21 Nov

While on the mountain for the VHF UHF Spring Field day, I set up my SOTA gear and antennas, using battery power for SOTA compliance. 58 ssb contacts and 7 on cw using the 20m band. The weather conditions for this visit were quite ok. Rig used: IC703 at 10w output. 20m contacts using quarter wave vertical with elevated radials.

Mt Stromlo VK1/AC-043 on 9 Dec

This activation was partly to support an activation by Andrew VK1NAM on Mt Taylor. He was aiming to boost the QSO count for Mt Taylor above 1000 and knowing he was going to be there, I saw it as a chance to give him some contacts and to gain an extra S2S point. 15 contacts including VK1NAM on several bands and a JA on 20m cw.

Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053 on 12 Dec 2014

This was one of the recent additions to the VK2 summit list and it is also only about 15 mins travel from my place in Yass. Andrew VK1NAM invited me to join in an activation and I readily agreed once I had sorted out the timing for family events later in the day. I operated nearly all on CW for this activation, with a few 2m FM contacts and one ssb S2S contact with Gerard VK2IO.


Livingstone Hill VK2/SM-093

This summit is just off the Monaro highway to the west, near the village of Michelago (some years ago I overheard a pilot requesting approach clearance for Canberra Airport, reporting his location as abeam Michaelangelo – suppose he thought the map had a typo).

Made 23 contacts including 4 on cw. My keyer was faulty – later traced to the cable having been damaged by repeated winding the cable around the key for transit. Much amusement for the chasers from my low quality sending, but we got the message through. To add to the fun, just as I was about to go to CW and make a few contacts with CW chasers, it started raining. If you are not prepared for rain, you worry about damage to the radio apart from personal discomfort. I need to carry suitable clothing and also make arrangements for the radio.

Mt Taylor Vk1/AC-037 on 18 Dec 2014

With Mt Taylor requiring 46 contacts to break the 1000 QSO tally, I thought I would help the cause by activating this one, thinking of making 20 or so contacts. After I alerted via sotawatch, Andrew VK1NAM circulated a suggestion on the VK1 SOTA mailing list suggesting everyone try to work me on every band possible. So eventually I had contacts on 2m fm, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40 and 80m on this occasion and in fact got 47 contacts, breaking the 1k goal and there was still enough light to walk down the hill afterwards. Saw some elaborate Xmas decorations on houses in Kambah, the suburb just south of the mountain.

Also on this activation I hastily packed my gas powered soldering iron so as to repair the keyer paddle cable. However after cutting off the last 100mm where I thought the problem was, I found that reterminating it resulted in no improvement. There must have been intermittent shorting of the dot and dash lines to the shield of the cable. I always use shielded cable for the paddle, after an earlier keyer failed miserably on 10m and 6m due to RF affecting it. So I regretfully had to cancel ideas of running CW contacts on this activation.


Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053 on 21 Dec 2014

As I had already activated this summit in the current calendar year, I would get no activation points for this one, but I had seen that my S2S score was about 960 and I only needed 40 more points to reach 1000 S2S points. With several activations posted on sotawatch I thought this was too good an opportunity to miss. Even if I only made 20 or 30 it was mean an easier target for the next activation. I used the FT817 for this activation, with the repaired paddle cable now operating perfectly.

It was very hot. I used the tarp (that I usually sit on) as a kind of poncho, but over my head. With a few surprises including a VK7 summit, Ian VK1DI on Bobbara and Andrew VK3BQ & wife Christine VK3FCEK on Mt Kosciuzsko I was delighted to find later that I had just edged over 1000 S2S points by the end of the activation. Another 1k goal reached.

I think the next worthwhile goal will be 1000 CW chaser points. Only 604 to go…


Amateur Radio field and portable SOTA

SOTA activation at Mt Stromlo, Canberra – 22nd March 2013

I was running late for this activation and had not been up to the mountain for quite a few years.  In fact I had not seen the level of destruction by the 2003 bushfires, I might have postponed seeing that because I had heard and read about it.

The mountain has a restaurant on it which is apparently open at night.  There are sometimes stargazing events open to the public.

Access to the summit is limited by a security gate which is closed to uphill traffic at 6pm.  That gate is a fair way down from the summit so if you can go a bit further uphill it will save a lot of walking.  I parked just below the gate and walked from there.  It took me about 25 mins to get to the area I operated from, which was on the side of a fenced water reservoir.  I only used 7 Mhz ssb and 14 MHz CW for this activation.  I had about 10 contacts on 7 Mhz and then about the same number on CW on 20m, including contacts into Germany, Finland, the UK and New Zealand.

Signal reports received on 20m were low and I need to improve my signal strength on this band.  I have a few ideas I need to try out.  The best simple low antenna for dx contacts is a vertical, but it needs an effective ground radial system to be efficient.  I am probably going to try using 3 elevated radials, about 1m above ground.  The squid pole is a good support for the vertical radiator and as it only requires 5m of vertical radiator, the radials can be almost 2m above ground, further reducing ground losses.

On this activation I found I was being attacked by mosquitoes especially once it got darker.  I had not had trouble with these on earlier activations and my fellow SOTA activator Andrew VK1NAM also had lots of mossies on Black Mountain this evening.

No photos as I got there too late.

Closed down after the contact with ZL1KLP at about 7:45 local time, quite dark by then. Have to make the most of daylight saving while we still have it.  DST end date 7 April 13.

I have disabled comments as I was receiving no comments from fellow amateurs but dozens from spammers with automatically generated inane comments and links to irrelevant and usually offensive websites.

Amateur Radio field and portable

SOTA goes live in VK1 – a day of firsts

The documentation was cleared during January 2013 by the SOTA management team after some amendments and updates. VK1 was then given a start date of 1st February.

To make the day memorable we encouraged VK1 activations via email lists and a presentation at the local club a week earlier. We asked chasers to tune in and help us get our required contacts. Activations at 0000 UTC were by Andrew VK1NAM at Booroomba Rocks, Matt VK1MA at Mt Stromlo, Russell VK1JRM at Tuggeranong Hill and by me at Mt Taylor. I logged 20 contacts on a combination of 7 MHz SSB and 146.5 MHz FM. Later in the day Ian VK1DI walked up Mt Majura and activated successfully with VK3 and VK5 contacts.

There are a few possible approaches to climbing Mt Taylor. The route I chose was from Sulwood Drive, Kambah. This route may be a little longer than the Pearce or Chifley approaches. Parking on Sulwood drive near the intersection with Manheim St, the walking path is easy to find and leads up a steady rocky path, which eventually becomes a bitumen sealed path, gives way to compressed gravel, some concrete in places and some wooden framed steps in other parts of the trip.

Looking back down the path on Mt Taylor

Concrete section of path

On arrival at the summit, the squid pole was extended and the central feedpoint of the 40m dipole was attached to it using cord. The ends of the dipole insulated by several metres of cord are attached to tent pegs hammered into the ground. A stone could be used as a hammer but I took a rubber mallet for this purpose.



The FT817 was powered by a 2.1 AH SLA Battery. Note the miniature morse paddle, purchased as a kit at Dayton Hamvention in 2010. This paddle is nice but too light so it needs to be held with one hand while you send with the other. Attaching it to a lump of heavy metal (not a Metallica album) would solve the problem but also add to the weight in the backpack (see below).


Signals on 40m were very good. Easy contacts were made around VK1 and with VK3 stations, including some SOTA activators on summits in VK3.

After liaising with Bruce VK1HBB on 2m we also made contact on 7090 where we had our first SOTA contact for VK1. After that the fun began and at times three frequencies were in use on 40m, while on 146.5 FM the Icom radio chattered away with a continuous series of contacts between VK1HBB, VK1FPIT and VK1FTAY who were portable at Mt Ainslie, VK1NAM at Booroomba Rocks, VK1MA at Mt Stromlo, VK1JRM at Mt Tuggeranong, VK1DR, VK1SV and VK1DI.

On HF I did call cq on CW at one stage but activity on CW during week days is rather low. This must be why my signal was discovered by an automatic skimmer run by Lyle VK1LW, whose station logged my CQ call and that ended up on SOTAWATCH as a spot.

Everyone involved seems to have enjoyed the day. A field day with a difference. Several operators took leave from work to activate on this day and we appreciated also the efforts of VK3 and VK5 activators and chasers who turned up on time to give us contacts and get these new SOTA summits into their chaser logs. No doubt from this point on we will gain new activators and chasers as familiarity with the award increases.

I would like to use more bands for these events. Some activators are routinely making CW contacts into Europe and the USA, some are making some ssb contacts, using 20m and 15m bands.

I underestimated the amount of equipment I would be trying to stuff into my ordinary backpack, and how much it weighed when I did! And that was a single band wire antenna, and a 2m handheld with its own flexible antenna. Carrying a real 2m antenna would add more complexity and weight. The SOTABEAMS enterprise in the UK offers readily assembled beams for various bands. For HF, some operators like horizontal antennas, both centre fed and end fed. Some like verticals. Your mileage does vary depending on what you are trying to do. The verticals would surely be better for DX contacts.


On the way down Mt Taylor I noticed a panoramic map installed by our friendly local government, showing the features of the Tuggeranong Valley and naming the mountains in the distance and on the horizon. Some of these will be familiar to readers, and some will be more familiar in a year’s time as many of the names seen here are SOTA summits.

Panoramic map on Mt Taylor
Panoramic map on Mt Taylor
Pano map on Mt Taylor
Panoramic map on Mt Taylor

The prominent mountain behind the town centre is Mt Tennent, named after a bushranger.  The fable is that he buried treasure of some kind up there before being captured.

Mt Tennent
Mt Tennent

Picture taken two days earlier without the mist was a lot clearer.


Mt Tennent
Mt Tennent


Amateur Radio general

When is the sun due north?

I needed to know at what time the sun would be positioned due north, to enable me to validate some previous measurements.

I found the following US Navy website which has a universal calculator allowing you to find this data for your lat/long which can be extracted from your iphone or any GPS.

For readers in the northern hemisphere, the calculator does allow for north and south latitudes, as well as west and east longitudes…

Amateur Radio

Joining VK9NA VHF/UHF dxpedition to Norfolk Island

I am joining the VK9NA team for January 2011. All the details of this expedition are on the VK9NA.COM website. This is a VHF/UHF/microwave expedition which will include some 2m EME capability and will have reasonable power (75w) on 5.7 and 10 GHz too.

The station should be on the air by 9th January and will be active in the following weekend’s VK VHF/UHF Summer Field Day event.

More details on the VK9NA website

Amateur Radio equipment field and portable

More about the Alligator Hat

The June 2009 edition of AR carries a small article I wrote about lowering the resonant frequency of a HF helical antenna to allow me to use it on a lower frequency than its design centre frequency. My 80m helical, for example, is resonant at 3585 and provides the lowest SWR at that frequency.  At the CW end of the band, say 3520, the same antenna has a SWR of over 3:1, sufficient for the IC706 to cut back its output power to less than 10w.  To operate on the CW end of the band with this antenna I therefore need to deal with the mismatch using an ATU, or change the resonant frequency of the antenna.

The method I used was to load the helical with a capacity hat formed by a short wire, actually an alligator lead I had in my field day accessories box.  I was operating from the car and was nowhere near home at the time.

Here is the SWR curve from the front panel of the IC706, with the radio tuned to 3585 kHz.  The SWR bar-graph is small but the general shape of the SWR curve can be appreciated.  The bars represent the SWR at frequencies below and above the centre frequency indicated by the main frequency dial.  The small dot below the bar in the centre of the graph reminds you that is the measurement corresponding to the dial frequency.  The increment per measurement is 10 KHz, as set using key M2.  The white rectangle drawn around the SWR bar graph was added to the photo by me.

SWR centred on 3585
SWR centred on 3585

After adding the loading and retuning the radio to 3521, the SWR curve moved down the band and here it is centred on 3521:

SWR of loaded helical, centred on 3521
SWR of loaded helical, centred on 3521

A nice application for the SWR indicator and sweep function in the IC706.

Amateur Radio contests

John Moyle Memorial Field day March 2009

For this year’s JMFD contest I thought weather and propagation conditions were fairly bleak.
The weather was wet and windy to say the least.  Many field stations reported having their tents and masts blown down.

The high point for me was working 3UHF on 1296 with only a single 18 el yagi, and barefoot (10w nominal).   The distance was 501 km according to the VK1OD distance calculator, using the VK1DA/p and VK3UHF locations from the VHF Logger.

I didn’t like my chances of having hf antennas stay up and didn’t want to extend the tear down process, so I limited myself to the vhf/uhf bands.  I had a car full of antennas and several extra masts but in those conditions, there is no point in trying to do too much.

The temp in the tent at 5AM Sunday morning was 3.5 C though the official overnight minimum according to BOM was 2C.   No wind gust peak data was available.

Operating techniques and problems observed.

There is a continuing tendency for operators to call and make contacts on only one frequency, 144.150.  Can everyone please tell their club operators that there is no repeater there, they are allowed to move the big knob in the middle of the radio panel.  It is ok, nothing will break, the rest of the band also works for making contacts.  It would be better to train vhf ssb operators on HF so they get to know how to operate on ssb, how to work the tuning knob and how to  tune around the band to find stations to work.  FM channels and repeaters are quite the wrong training ground for SSB but I’m afraid that the FM repeater operation mode (staying on one frequency, as if it is the only conduit to any other station) is the method many operators learn and continue to use.

It is up to the experienced operators to teach new operators better techniques.  I appreciated those experienced operators who I heard requesting a QSY as soon as initial contact had been made.

During the contest I tried many times to make contact with some stations in the greater Sydney and Melbourne areas, whose signals were perfectly readable, but whose operators seemed to want to chat to locals interminably, on 144.150.  There are bonus points for working longer distances and these operators were ignoring those chances.  eg. a contact with another local station is worth 2 points, but a contact with a station 300+ km away would be worth 50 points.  This surely would make it worth listening to a weaker signal.

We should encourage people to operate in vhf events in a manner similar to the HF bands.  Find a clear frequency (within the band plan) and call CQ.  If looking for a contact, tune the band.   If activity is low, don’t move too far from other activity (but be mindful of local interference problems – this is why I qsy 30 kHz up from 150, not just 5 kHz as I might on HF).  If activity is high, move further out.  Give the dx something to tune for.  Don’t clump up and make it impossible!

My QSO tally

All contacts ssb.  These scores are about half the corresponding number from the summer VHF/UHF field day in January.

6m – 9
2m – 54
70cm – 31
23cm – 7
13cm – nil.

Amateur Radio

New antennas for 1296 MHz

I received the two 18 element yagis for 1296 Mhz and they appear to be strongly made. We will see whether they are any better than the previous antenna.  I have borrowed a splitter for them and will use that for the Summer field day in mid January, unless I can make my own before then.

I found a website offering data on stacking distances for yagis.  For a boom length of 1.5m on this frequency the stacking distance recommended is 2.4 wavelengths, which works out at 55cm (23cm wavelength).  The feedlines on the yagis are about 25 cm long but that’s not long enough to reach the power divider, so additional connectors and cable will be needed, eating into the stacking gain.

Next step for 23cm is to configure the power amplifier so it can be operated remotely from the tent.  I read some comments on the UK microwave reflector about power levels from IC910H not being up to the 10w level expected.  Time to get out the power meter and check mine out.