VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

01 JAN 2017 – Mt Buller VK3/VE-008

Ah, UTC rollover, that glorious time of double points, and what better way to exploit it than with 10 point roughly drive up summits? Mt Buller fit that bill for me, being a relatively sane drive from Geelong, and also a unique. The drive up, through Alexandra, Yea and Mansfield took about 3 and a half hours, and the walk to the top less than 10 minutes, steep though it is from the summit car park.

Summit panorama

Summit panorama

Once there, it was clear it was going to be a very windy activation. Because of this, I set up closer to the fire watch tower, which was unmanned, and hit 40m for all it was worth. As expected, it was a S2S extravaganza, and the log was quickly filled up. I operated a mixture of search and pounce, and sitting on frequency, and there were a few instances of combined S2S operations as other activators heard me, or I heard others. Lots of cooperation, as always.

Looking north

Looking north

During this time, the fire watch person had arrived, and we had a quick chat; he wasn’t worried about my presence, but I did make it clear if I was getting in his way or causing interference he was to let me know immediately. There were no incidents from my side, although part of his UHF systems did seem to cause breakthrough when he used it occasionally. I wasn’t about to complain: fire watch takes precedence over SOTA.

Imminent risk of DEATH

Imminent risk of DEATH

In total, I had 52 QSOs across the rollover on 40m, and 1 on 20m, being Andrew VK3JBL/6 on VK6/SW-004, for my only VK6 contact, and in total, I added 255 S2S points to my tally, plus the 20 activator points, of course. As I packed up, I realised I’d also picked up some sunburn, which wasn’t as much fun.

South facing panorama

South facing panorama

I had a late lunch in Kilmore, before avoiding the temptation to throw in Pretty Sally on the way back, opting instead to get home at a sane and reasonable hour and not annoy my wife in the process. A fun UTC rollover again!

Back down to the summit village

Back down to the summit village

The topograph

The topograph

27 DEC 2016 – VK3/VN-023 Mt Tarrengower

In a similar vein to the previous activation of Mt Alexander, this was an opportunistic activation of Mt Tarrengower on the way back from Swan Hill. Having some control over the departure time, I noted there were going to be a bunch of ZL stations on the air, and timed my departure to have me arrive on Mt Tarrengower at the right time. It was raining lightly, but cleared as I set up.

In actual fact, I was a little early, and on 20m, I worked Gerard VK2IO first, who basically seems to be first in my log most activations. Then was John ZL1BYZ, who was low down, but workable from ZL1/WK-158, allowing me to complete the ZL1 association for Mountain Hunter. This is association 14. Col VK3LED got in ahead of UTC rollover before I switched to 15m, to try to work the other ZL stations.

I had heard them low down on 20m, but none had responded to my calls, and Warren ZL2AJ had suggested via SMS that 15m might be the go. I managed to work him on ZL1/BP-154, before QSY’ing up 5, and getting Kyle ZL2KGF and John ZL1PO in the logs from ZL1/AK-011 and ZL1/WK-153 respectively. ZL3LF also worked me on 15m, before 3 more on 20m (Gerard, Col post UTC and Ian VK5IS).

Pack up was quick and back into Malden for lunch and the drive home.

23 DEC 2016 – Mt Alexander VK3/VN-016

A quick activation while the family sat in Castlemaine on our way up to family Christmas in Swan Hill. It was a very hot day, and the biggest excitement, if it could be called that of this activation was the radio shutting down due to being in the sun while I set up (and of course being black). Gerard VK2IO was the first in the log on 20m, but I wasn’t able to hear Steve VK7CW. I QSY’d to 40m, and got Steve and three others in the log, before heading back to Castlemaine to pick up the family.

18 DEC 2016 – Mt Cowley VK3/VC-022 and Crowsnest Lookout VK3/VS-049

As part of a recon of an upcoming bushwalk in the Otways, and also as an excuse to get out of doing more work sorting out our new shed, I opted for a jaunt down the Great Ocean Road. The family didn’t feel like coming along, so I decided I’d add in Apollo Bay and make a day of it by doing a new unique, Crowsnest Lookout, which would also push me to 250 activator points.

Ocean from Mt Cowley

Ocean from Mt Cowley

The drive down the road was all you’d expect it to be for this time of the year. Lots of tourists with no idea about slow vehicle turnouts, doing 60km an hour on the straight sections. I reached Mt Cowley about 12:30, and after setting up, quickly got a number of VKs in the log via 40m. After a bit of fiddling around trying to hear a JA activator on 17m (my dipole has no 17m capability, but 15m comes close), I decided to stay on 15m. I worked 3 more contacts here, the highlight being JS1IFK and the ever present ZL1BYZ.

The Cowley Shack.

The Cowley Shack.

As part of the series on SOTA Watches currently on the reflector, and in honour of my grandfather, I carried two watches to use as timekeepers on these activations. The first was a pocket watch of dubious value other than sentimental, although I was sad to discover the movement is broken in it – either the movement itself, or the spring winder. It was back to using the phone for the first activation (the other watch was in the car).

Timepiece number 1

Timepiece number 1

I jumped back into the car, heading into Lorne for a late lunch, before driving down to Apollo Bay. This drive was more eventful. Much of the same, but the guy slamming on the brakes to turn into a lookout, causing the car in front of me to slam on their brakes late, causing me to slam mine on, realise I wasn’t going to stop, and opting instead to steer left off the side of the road to avoid them. The tourist in the car had no idea of the carnage behind them, but the other car was most appreciative of the consideration of not running up the back of her.

Once into Apollo Bay, I followed Tuxion Road out to the location of the lookout – if it can be called that. It’s more a turning circle, and I had to check and double check locations on Google Maps and Peter VK3PF’s blog to make sure I was in the right spot. Once there, I strapped the squid pole to the fence, ran it out roughly on 40m, and got on the air.

Apollo Bay from Tuxion Rd

Apollo Bay from Tuxion Rd

SWR was higher than normal due to the low height and rough layout, but not terrible, and I made a total of 14 QSOs, all on 40m SSB, the highlight being Wynne ZL2ATH, for my first ZL on 40m. The timepiece for this activation was a Sperina mechanical digital watch. This is about 70s vintage, and my grandfather always described it as “the first digital watch”, which is, of course, patently untrue. This one worked better than the first, and I used it to log all 14 QSOs.

The Sperina Mechanical Digital watch.  See the clock face which is like an old school alarm clock

The Sperina Mechanical Digital watch. See the clock face which is like an old school alarm clock

After 40m, it was getting late, so I packed up, phone the wife to find out what to get for dinner on the way home, and drove back, 250 activator points to the good.

22 Oct 2016 – VK/EU S2S party

Andrew VK1AD and Mickey 2E0YYY’s plan to host a VK/EU S2S party rapidly turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and as such, it was important I participate! My original plan was to head up to Mt Donna Buang to get 8 points, which would take me across the 250 point mark. My Saturday rapidly ended up not being as timely as possible, so I changed to Mt St Leonard (6 points – to take me to 249), and eventually, I caved and went for VK3/VC-032 (4 points), as time was getting away from me.

After setting up in my usual spot, the day started well with John VK6NU in the log from VK6/SW-042 on SSB, which finalised the VK6 association for me for Mountain Hunter, followed by a S2S with Take JS1UEH on JA/IB-001 on CW. A normal CW chase from VK4BJS was followed by Greg VK8GM on SSB, who was booming in from VK8/AL-100 for the VK8 association in Mountain Hunter.

At this point, I tried settling on a CW frequency to work the EU hordes, and hordes was the operative word. I could pull no partials out of the mess, and in the end, just gave up and went on Search and Pounce mode. First up was JG3NGT/3 on JA/OS-012 on CW, Allen VK3ARH down the road on VK3/VC-018, before a difficult CW S2S with JJ1SWI on JA/KN-020. I could only give him 229 in response to his 419, and by this stage, the 20m path to Japan was almost closed.

Another sting on a CW frequency produced 9A7W, my first Croatian DX contact. I also pounced on Andrew VK3JBL who was on the appropriately named Andrew Hill, before jumping to 40m to work Andrew VK1AD on SSB, and Gerard VK2IO on CW.

I packed up at that point as the sun was almost down, and headed home, encountering the usual crazy wildlife the Australian bush throws at dusk drivers. An enjoyable event, even though the QSO count was down: Mountain Hunted VK6/VK8, JA S2S, and a new DXCC entity.

Mountain Explorer Platinum award

My Platinum award for Mountain Explorer arrived in the mail on Friday. I think that’s the first one in VK – only 8 have been awarded judging from the serial number 🙂

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DM/BW-019 – Hornisgrinde

After leaving Kudertberg and heading along the A4, I arrived at Berghotel Mummelsee at around 9pm. This hotel is located on Mummelsee, which is right next to DM/BW-019 Hornisgrinde, which of course had NO impact whatsoever in my choice to stay there. It was an excellent hotel, even if the manager was most apologetic that just about everything was closing at 9pm – the kitchen, the sauna, etc, etc. I told him I didn’t mind, and placed the battery on charge, while heading off to sleep.

My plan was to climb Hornisgrinde prior to breakfast, taking advantage of the opportunities for LP greyline contacts back into VK. I awoke at the allotted time, grabbed all my equipment, and started up the access road to the summit. The road is not available for general traffic, but there is a bus that will shuttle people to the top (I assume the elderly are its intended audience).

Dawn light near the hotel

Dawn light near the hotel

The walk up, in soft pre-dawn light, was easy enough; the road is not too steep, and there are contours marked on it, so you know just how high you’ve managed to reach. After about fifteen minutes, I reached the Hornisgrindeturm (Hornisgrinde Tower) and started to look around the summit plateau. Over to one side was a wind turbine and the TV transmitter tower for the local area. I walked around, catching the sunrise to the east, before heading back to a point about midway between the turbine and the Turm, and set up. There would be plenty of room to stretch out a large antenna, but there are not so many trees to tie off against, so I kept myself limited to 20m and above.

Sunrise on Hornisgrinde

Sunrise on Hornisgrinde

Summit turbine and transmitter

Summit turbine and transmitter

I started on SSB first, getting Sergei RA3PCI and Vlad R4FCJ in the log before a long period calling CQ. After about ten minutes, I pulled out the key and switched to CW. Coverage on the summit was fairly spotty, so I wasn’t able to spot my frequency, but after a short period of calling, Gerard VK2IO came up on frequency, and I guessed that RBNHole had done its trick. Whoever wrote that piece of software deserves a medal. Shortly afterwards, I got F6HKA in the log to claim the 10 points on offer.

The travel pole.  Vertical is nice, but any way it gets in the air is OK

The travel pole. Vertical is nice, but any way it gets in the air is OK

France from the heights of the Black Forest

France from the heights of the Black Forest

Ron VK3AFW was next in the log, proving the path to VK was open, followed by LZ2RS for my first Bulgaria contact, and a scratchy QSO with Andrew VK2UH. Very tough copy, with lots of QSB, but we managed to complete it.

Hornisgrindeturm

Hornisgrindeturm

After a little while calling CQ again, and with the path to VK open, I decided I’d give SSB another go. I tuned around looking for a clear spot, and found a strong VK voice calling CQ, and discovered it was Paul VK5PAS, who got in the log. Hornisgrinde is also in DLFF-0111, so he was happy to get another reference from me. He alerted me to Peter VK3TKK in VKFF-0757 Enfield State Park, and Adam VK2YK. I could not hear Adam, but Peter popped out of the noise enough to complete the contact, 3/1 signals both ways.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

Two SV2 stations, Ron again, and Allen VK3ARH got into the log, before wrapping up with Russia and the Ukraine. At this point, I’d been on the mountain for over an hour, and my stomach was getting rumbly. I headed down via the Westweg (West route) and think I took the right option in heading up via the road. Nice walk, but a lot steeper.

Down the Westweg

Down the Westweg

Memorial for crash of French Air Force transport

Memorial for crash of French Air Force transport

I had planned to do another DM summit, but after breakfast, I decided I’d head instead to the airport, and in the end I was grateful that I did, as with traffic on the autobahn, and a missing wing mirror reducing my ability to pass cars, I took a bit longer than anticipated to get there. After sorting out the hire car, I headed back to Heathrow, and from Heathrow, I headed back to Australia.

I can recommend the Berghotel Mummelsee as a nice place to stay – there are cheaper options in the surrounding towns, but none are as convenient to a 10 pointer as this one is.

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View from my window.

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Mummelsee and Hornisgrindeturm

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Mummelsee

F/VO-052 – Kudertberg

Again, I set the satnav up to take me to my next stop, F/VO-052 to the east of the town of Volmerange-les-Mines. It gave me a track that kind of matched what I’d expected from Google Maps, but kind of didn’t. In any case, what’s the worst that could happen? Last time I followed it I got stopped by the police. That sort of bad luck couldn’t happen again, right?

Of course, following a satnav is supposed to be easy, but when there’s an instruction to “bear left” and there’s a left turn lane, and then you try to get into it, right as the road narrows, a truck is in front of you in the right lane, and you’re suddenly squeezed for room and realising you’re actually not supposed to turn left, but to bear left further ahead. You can probably guess what happens next. A loud crunch, and the right wing mirror has clipped the back of the truck and, followed by a bunch of swearing from me, I pulled over into a side street and dealt with the very annoyed truck driver.

After reviewing his truck and noting no obvious damage (I basically hit the mudflap), I reviewed the damage to my car, which was the wing mirror being ripped right out, missing its plastic shell, and hanging on only via the wiring loom. Luckily I had a roll of duct tape available which enabled me to hold the mirror close to the door so it wasn’t going to flap around. I also read the hiring agreement, which said I had to report the damage immediately to the nearest Avis branch.

Oops

Oops

Satnav set again (do I trust it still?) and I headed off to the town of Bertrange to report. I arrived there and they basically said, “No, just report it when you hand it back.” That worked for me, as did the duct tape, although the sting to my pride was much worse. Once I realised the usual top-level cover I have as a regular hire car user wasn’t automatically applied in Europe, the sting to my wallet was worse (900 Euros worse). Once the car was returned, they also saw some scraping on the door handles and a dent where the mirror had hit the door, so plenty of damage there. I was grateful to only have to pay 900 Euros once it all was tallied up.

After Bertrange, I decided to head out to Kudertberg – I was going to go past it anyway, and I had a hotel booking in the Black Forest to get to. I had a brief panic as I took the turn off to Volmerange-les-Mines as there were more police pulling over random cars, and I now had a missing wing mirror to add to my problems. I managed to avoid that problem (they were on the other side of the road and gone by the time I went back). I also took a wrong turn (my fault, not the satnav), and ended up a one-way lane that took some effort to get back out of.

Finally, I hit the main road up to the top of Kudertberg, which is used as a launching place for hang gliders. The road is 4WD only, but I was able to take it all the way to the top. I passed a man walking to the top on the way. At the top there is a nice view east, as the peak has a pretty much solid drop off (perfect for hang gliding).

Panorama from top.  Quality is a bit poor

Panorama from top. Quality is a bit poor

View East.

View East. Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant in the distance

View North East

View North East

Once I parked and began to set up, the gentleman I’d passed reached the top and asked a few questions about what I was doing. He’d seen a few online documentaries, and had a reasonable grasp about the ionosphere (‘you bounce the signal off the clouds’) and how antennas worked (‘shorter is higher frequency’). He listened in, as I told him I expected to get into Germany, England and France with the signal.

By now it was almost 5pm, so most of Europe might have been at my beck and call on 40m, but I couldn’t find a clear frequency at all, so I switched to 20m (prompting the antenna conversation) and worked Portugal, Greece, Russia and then to my great surprise, N1GB with a strong 57 signal to my 55. Silva (as his name was) was amazed to think that an Australian had come all the way to France to climb a relatively small mountain to work someone in America using a bit of wire a few metres off the ground.

With four in the log and a long drive ahead of me, I packed up and bade farewell to my new friend. About three hours later, and a stop for linner (lunch/dinner), I arrived at my hotel in Germany, Berghotel Mummelsee, chosen specifically as it was about 100 vertical metres below a 10 point DM summit 😀

My friend poses.  He didn't transmit.

My friend poses. He didn’t transmit.

LX/LX-001 – Steekammchen

The high point in Luxembourg awaited me next, above the charming village of Erpeldange, near Wiltz. There are a couple of paths up to the top, but I followed Phil ON4TA’s advice, parked to the north of the summit, and headed up ‘An der Gewaan’, which leads, ultimately, to the summit plateau. The walk up is easy enough, about 10-15 minutes, and I reached the first summit clearing quickly. This is likely in the activation zone, but rather than risk it, I headed further up to a second summit clearing, which was clearly in the activation zone. Along the way, I disturbed a deer.

Erpeldange, I parked towards the left (the silver SUV)

Erpeldange, I parked towards the centre (the silver SUV)

Once again, I found a clear frequency and got 21 in the log fairly quickly, including a S2S with HB/HB9BIN/P (the second for the day). As it looked like it was about to rain, I packed up quickly and descended, heading for my next destination, in France.

Up the path

Up the path

The shack

The shack

The walk was the first real walk I had to do to get to a summit, and it was quite nice. I recommend this summit to any visitors.

ON/ON-010 – Baraque Fraiture

Upon leaving Vrouwenheide, I put the details back into the Satnav, and began to follow it. After a little while, I realised this didn’t quite gel with the instructions from Google Maps. My guess is this was to do with traffic around Maastricht, and instead I was sent back into Germany before I’d cut across into Belgium. As I crossed the border I was still trying to determine where exactly I was being taken – the possibility of a dodgy address had crossed my mind. Knowing I could fix any issues, I concentrated on the road, before a police car came up behind me. I was stuck behind a truck for a bit, overtook it, and the police car followed, moved in front of me, and flashed “Bitte Folgen” (please follow) on its lights.

I say this now with the benefit of hindsight, but I wasn’t entirely sure if ‘folgen’ meant follow, but when they took the exit and flashed their lights just as it seemed I wasn’t going to take the exit, I realised I was right, followed them, and we pulled over on the grass. A friendly enough ‘Guten Morgen’ was followed by my highly accented “Good Morning”, at which point he realised I wasn’t from around there. He asked for passport and hirecar details, which I happily provided, asked for my destination, asked to search my luggage, which I obliged, and then they sent me on my way. I suspect it was a random search, or perhaps I’d triggered something by going over the border and back into Germany relatively quickly, or maybe they’d seen me looking at the satnav earlier. Either way, they said nothing about why I was stopped, and I continued on my merry way, adrenaline pumping and pants moderately filled.

I quickly headed back over into Belgium, and followed the E25 expressway, which conveniently passes directly over the top of ON/ON-010 Baraque Fraiture. A turn off into the town of Fraiture, and I set up near the ski parking lot. I had a bit of trouble finding a clear frequency – my first one was clear for me, but not for a lot of chasers, but my second one worked well enough, and I got 36 in the log, including some S2S points. You won’t get a much easier 8 points than this one.

After spending too long and not taking photos, I packed up and headed off to my next destination, LX/LX-001 Steekamchen.