Only 996 points to go

by vk3arr

I approached her carefully. She had a toothbrush in her mouth, which, despite that rabid, frothy look that suggests a hint of madness, worked to my advantage. With her mouth full, I could always claim I misheard what she said. She spat. The advantage disappeared quite literally down the sink. I asked my ask, gently, delicately. The opening salvo of what promised to be a long and arduous negotiation. She agreed readily. Too readily. There had to be a catch.

Had this beautiful lady, who somehow in a fit of madness (or low self-esteem) had agreed to marry me all those years ago, had she agreed to let me activate a summit? Over dinner time? An hour away from home? She had indeed. She had even suggested we turn it into a family affair – a picnic up a mountain. Perhaps that was the catch. Two children running around at dinner time while Daddy played radios would inevitably lead to boredom and nagging and we’d get a picnic, and little radio time. But still, she had agreed, and I wasn’t about to argue the point.

With Andrew VK1NAM suggesting a massive joint activation of VK summits to attempt DX into Europe, I had, for most of the week, been considering my options. The nearest summit is Flinders Peak, but that has locked gates that shut at sun down and I didn’t want to run the risk of being caught on the wrong side of that. The next two nearest summits are Mt Buninyong and Mt Warrenheip. Buninyong is easy from Geelong: it’s only an hour in the car, with a drive to the top. Perfect for what I was looking for, plus 4 times as many points as Flinders Peak.

Unfortunately, I do not own an FT-857 or a KX3 or any of the fine examples of portable HF radios that are utilised in the SOTA realm. I had considered buying one in Tokyo when I was there two weeks back, but to get a 50W 857 needs me to show a JA license, which I hadn’t bothered to organise this time around, and in any case, the suitcase was already full with the countless other things I brought back. That left me with the Icom IC-718. The entry level Icom HF transceiver. It is portable only in the Navy sense (“Anything is portable if it can be fitted to a ship and the ship moved around”). Still, it was what I had, and it would suffice. I could drive to the top, manhandle the thing down the hill and then back up into the activation zone, and get going from there.

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Portable in the Navy sense. Those 16 inch guns are portable because they’re on a ship that moves.

The second challenge was an antenna. This was more easily solved. A quick trip to Jaycar had me a toroid, an enclosure and a few binding posts for a 1:1 choke balun.
I cut two lots of 5 metres worth of Peter VK3PF’s ultralightweight Magic Unicorn wire, and over the course of the day, whipped up a 20m dipole. I’d call it a linked dipole, because ultimately that’s what’ll turn into, but for now, the links are non-existent, and so it is an unlinked dipole. On top of a 7m squid pole, it’s SWR is less than 1.1 across the whole 20m band.

The third challenge was to decide what to take up the mountain in the form of food the kids would eat and enjoy. A trip to the local Italian deli had that one sorted in about ten minutes, plus some yummy bacon for tomorrow’s breakfast (one of the advantages of having chickens is you always have eggs, and therefore always a need to have bacon in the house. This is a good problem to have).

The only thing left was to explain the whole “enter the activation zone unassisted” thing. My wife is inherently practical, and the idea of driving to the top of a summit, then getting out and walking down the hill then back up it would seem odd to her. I called it a quirk. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Just so you’re aware, there’s a quirk of SOTA”
Her: “You have to sing on the radio?”
Me: [puzzled look] “Um, no. You have to-”
Her: “do radio stuff in the nude?”
Me: [cough] “Um, no.”

The real explanation was rather humdrum after that, but I can see why I married her.

We bundled everyone into the car at 5pm local (0600 UTC) and headed up to Buninyong. We arrived pretty much on time, to a reasonably empty summit. The kids slept in the car on the way up, which worked out well. They bundled out of the car at the top fairly happy. I grabbed my gear, walked down the track to clear the activation zone and then back up. It took a bit longer than I’d expected, partly due to the fact the track was on the sun side of the mountain, and there were lots of lizards out getting sun. That means snakes are wanting to do the same thing. I didn’t see any, thankfully.

I set up, and tuned around the band, finding Andrew VK1NAM on his summit. I completed my first ever contact from on top of a mountain with Andrew, being also my first Summit-to-Summit and Andrew and my first Andrew-to-Andrew S2S. We swapped 51s. There were a few others around according to SOTAwatch, VK5s mainly, but I wasn’t able to hear any of them. I moved to 14.330, put up a spot on SOTAwatch and put out a few CQs.

After about 10 minutes of calling CQ, Gerard VK2IO came back to me. He was 53 to me, and I was 45 to him. I called CQ a bit more and kept hearing not much. Keeping one eye on SOTAwatch, I saw Peter VK3ZPF was active on 14.290 from Mt Tamboritha. I’d already chased Peter from home earlier in the day, but I called him up for a S2S again and I gave him a 41 to my 51 signal.

By this stage, I was three contacts down and only needing one more to qualify my first SOTA summit. I hadn’t scored any DX, but I’d settle for a successful summit activation after my Flinders Peak debacle a few weeks back.

I called again and again, and edited my SOTAwatch spot to try coax some more callers out, but nothing. I tried to hear Rik VK3EQ and Allen VK3HRA, but couldn’t. Allen had been marginal on 40m earlier in the day and completely inaudible on 20m. Back on my frequency, a German station had come up 2 kilohertz higher than me and was causing QRM into 14.330. He clearly couldn’t hear me, so I moved down to 14.328 and put out another spot. By this stage, I’d been calling for 20 minutes to try to get that last contact. To my surprise, Marko OH9XX came back to me with a 57 report. He was a strong 59. He told me I was inaudible short path, but by using the long path propagation, I was very strong.

I had my summit activated, and I had my DX. I didn’t know where OH was until I got home. It was Finland! 15,200 km of DX, which I’m happy with, off about 40W out. My previous DX was to New Zealand, so that hardly counts! By now, I’d been on the summit for close to an hour, and the kids were still happy running around.

No sooner had I completed a QSO with Marko, when IA0MZ came up on my frequency. He couldn’t hear me and called CQ for a while. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t work him, as he appears to be in Antarctica. That would have been a novel contact for the evening.

Fifteen minutes later, and I knew I’d tried the patience of the family, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any more contacts. The insects were making a meal of any exposed skin. I’d tried breaking in on some Germans, but they couldn’t hear me despite their strong signals. I put out a final call at that point, and Ed VK2JI came back.

He was very strong, 58 and I was hitting him 57. I don’t believe I’ve worked Ed before. He’d attempted to activate a summit too, but had to turn back for safety reasons. It was good to make contact with him and with such strong signals. When Ed’s been doing VK2 summits he’s usually way down in the weeds on 40m.

After completing the contact with Ed, I threw out one more final call, and of course another chaser came out of the woodwork. Mike VK3XL had also intended to activate but had not been able to. Instead, he sat at home with 200W and a tribander and attempted to blow up my front-end from the opposite side of the bay :). 59 plus, and I was 55 to him.

After that, I began the pack up procedure, leaving the radio on to the last minute. I realised at that point I hadn’t taken (m)any photos, so took a quick one of the activation area, and threw it all in the back of the car. I took some photos on the way down the mountain, but the kids had been fantastic. No complaining, no moaning, just running around and then sitting quietly in the car while I packed up out of the way of the mosquitoes. So, 4 points down on the path to Mountain Goat, only 996 to go.

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The SOTA station. Squid pole dropped, attached to picnic table. The Icom-16-inch-gun behind it with LiFe battery and Magic Unicorn wire on the table and seat. Solar powered backpack in behind. It somehow all fit in there!

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Mt Warrenheip from Mt Buninyong. Next target perhaps?

A bushfire (controlled burn?) to the north of Ballarat

A bushfire (controlled burn?) to the north of Ballarat

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