VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: March, 2014

G/SC-004 Staple Hill

Heading up to the Cotswolds, I noticed a SOTA summit on the way. Given it was my birthday, and after yesterday’s misadventure, I put the hard word on being able to activate it on the way back. As it was, it was so close to our route back that it wasn’t really a big deal at all. Or so I said.

Staple Hill is actually quite easy to access, along firm forest paths. They were a little muddy, due to rain, but at no point were they unpassable. We parked at the access gate that Phil G4OBK mentioned in his blog, and walked in. It took us about 15 minutes to get into the activation zone.

It turned out that I’d somehow sold the summit as being so easy to access that it was drive-up, so the 15 minute walk was a surprise. The unsuitable shoes was a setback, but the pathways were good enough. Because of that, we didn’t bother trying to find the trig point, which is apparently off the track. Once I was in the forest at the far end of the track, I set up and tried to get going.

This was something of a disaster. It would seem that Qantas’ baggage handlers have excelled themselves, because I had no end of trouble setting up the Buddistick. The tripod I had has a number of cracks in it that it didn’t have before, and what had seemed a minor antenna fall at Christ Cross had actually broken the attachment plate. I managed to get the vertical set up with some velcro straps I had, but I couldn’t get the SWR down to a decent level. In fact, it was infinite more often than not.

I eventually diagnosed a loose PL-259 connector that I was able to jam in, and my wife graciously held onto the antenna for the vast majority of the activation. I got onto 20m, and managed to work Vlad OM1AX for my first OM contact, and followed it with another (OM8). Two Spanish contacts and a Polish one did enough for 20m, and so I decided to QSY to 40m to get local G contacts.

Right as I was trying vainly to find a clear frequency on 40m, and just as my wife said, “how much longer must I hold this?” the heavens opened up with some solid hail. We had a reservation at 6:30pm at River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, so that was that. No 40m, and no G contacts. I dropped everything quickly, and we headed back to the car and home, in sunshine. The hail was quick, the rain quicker, but it was nice to walk back without having to put our hoods back on.

Holding the antenna up, calling CQ

Holding the antenna up, calling CQ

The view from the access road, near the summit woods

The view from the access road, near the summit woods

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G/DC-001 High Willhays

With the weather looking fine for Wednesday, I had a plan to activate High Willhays and Brown Willy, the high points of Devon and Cornwall respectively. We set out early, High Willhays first, heading for the public access road from Okehampton Camp that everyone seems to use. I had an OS map of Dartmoor to help me out, and we set off for the summit at about 9:30am.

I had the OS map, but having studied it hard over the past few days, I stupidly kept it in my pack, resulting in missing a turnoff over Rowtor, and taking a longer route, which added about 1km to the journey. This extra kilometre would be the killer in the end. The path was steeper, the distance longer, and by the time we were back on the right path, my wife was exhausted, the jet-lag taking a strong toll. With Yes Tor and High Willhays looming above us, and another kilometre to go, we decided to head back.

While I am sure we could both have made it, I suspect I wouldn’t have been the most popular husband by the end of it. So, we took a nice long walk on Dartmoor with a radio on my back instead, and headed back to the car by the proper route. Having seen Yes Tor and High Willhays up close now, though, I have a strong urge to head back and complete the task. The landscape was stunning, and the weather was beautiful. I’d also spent so long thinking about getting up there, that to turn back early was very disappointing.

Having given up on High Willhays, it seemed prudent to give up on Brown Willy too. Thus, we called it a day SOTA wise, had lunch in Launceston and spent the afternoon in Looe. This was a good antidote!

Okehampton Camps

Okehampton Camps

West Mill Tor

West Mill Tor

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

Dartmoor sheep

Dartmoor sheep

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

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Brook

Brook

Small brook

Small brook

Dartmoor sheep

Dartmoor sheep

The path from the access road

The path from the access road

Christ Cross – G/DC-005

Having arrived in the UK yesterday, the jet lag under some kind of control, we decided to head out early and visit a few places in Devon.  Recognising the opportunity to activate what appeared to be an easy drive-up summit, I threw the kit in the back and wrote out directions courtesy of Google Maps, with the aim of activating Christ Cross (G/DC-005).

Leaving the M5 at Cullompton, we headed towards Bradninch, turning off a mile short onto some very narrow roads.  At the intersection at Beacon Hill, we turned right, bore left onto Christ Cross Lane, and then parked on the left at the end of road, at the top of the hill.  We got out, and walked up to the summit.  The path was very muddy, and there were a few people working at the communications tower, so in order to not disturb them, and to avoid suspicion, we set up on the other side of the road to where we’d parked the car, inside the activation zone, and unattached to a vehicle.

The narrow lanes to get to the summit

The narrow lanes to get to the summit

The first thing I noticed was that I’d brought the wrong power cable. I had the charger cable for the battery, not the adapter to connect the battery to the radio. The charger cable had 5.5mm bullet connectors to banana sockets, and the radio power cable was Anderson Powerpoles. I jammed the banana plugs into the Powerpoles, and it worked. Remarkably well.

I put out a spot via SMS for 20m, and called for a while without much response.  Eventually, Bernt DF5WA came back to me, and I managed to work a total of 9 contacts on 20m before a station came up on me and was knocking my signal out.  I had already qualified the summit so didn’t bother switching to another frequency.  I probably should have as Paul VK5PAS was listening in.  I do not have data roaming enabled (to save my wallet), so I didn’t see the spot until I got home. I worked Germany (4x), Spain (2x), Poland, Switzerland and Austria (1 each).

Instead, I switched to 40m.  This was a different experience.  40m on a weekday in VK has plenty of free spots to set up on, but I struggled to find anything clear for a while.  I eventually found a clear frequency, and put out a spot.  I worked 4 stations, Don G0RQL first up, also in Devon.  I then had M0MDA call in, although his local QRM prevented him from hearing my 59 report to him.  He didn’t log the contact.  Then Alan GW4VPX called in from Wales, followed by Steve G6LUZ near Manchester.  I called it a day at that point as the tripod supporting my antenna was being supported by my wife and I didn’t want to push my luck any further.

We headed back the way we came, the first G summit activated, and the views fantastic.

A hot air balloon pops up above the hedge

A hot air balloon pops up above the hedge

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The Devon countryside

The Devon countryside

Looking South West towards Cornwall

Looking South West towards Cornwall

Looking North East

Looking North East

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The long way in

With the purchase of the new toys detailed in other posts, it was time to test them out. I also had new hiking boots that needed breaking in, so a walk was in order. I wanted a summit I knew would be easy, and of the ones I’d been to before, that still had 2014 activation points available, only one met the bill: the unnamed summit VK3/VC-032.

As mentioned in my last visit, this summit is a great point to activate from. It’s convenient to Daylesford and Melbourne, and not difficult to get to from Geelong, there’s a huge activation zone to set up in, and the road itself is pretty quiet and nondescript, so you don’t get bothered. Its other great redeeming feature is that it’s on the Lerderderg Track section of the Great Dividing Trail.

Couple the last paragraph with the first, add in a dash of public holiday courtesy of Labour Day, and we have the recipe for a bushwalk. I dropped a note to my friends from my university days, Hayden and Wes, who were both keen to see a bit of SOTA action with some DX thrown in. A pizza lunch the week before helped us iron out the details, and we decided to set off about 2pm from The Garden of St Erth at Simmons Reef, and walk through to the Unnamed Summit on Camp Road. Being a one-way walk, there would be a ton of car shifting involved, especially since a young child was planned to brought along, and the matter of car seats needed to be considered. The child, incidentally, was one of our own, not a random young child. It turned into an exercise not dissimilar to the “ferry across the river” style brain teasers.

A solution found, I drove my car to the end point at Camp Road, where I was to be picked up by Wes and carted to Simmons Reef. I was early this time, due to taking the Spargo-Blakeville Road instead of going all the way through Daylesford. Not having to drop people in Daylesford made this a lot quicker. The road up Camp Road is signposted and you simply stay on it until you intersect with Pines Track (watching, of course, the order of the vowels). I almost bottomed the car out doing a U-turn here, so choose a different point to turn your car around than I did, and I parked up on a clearing near the exit of the Lerderderg track, on the high point of the road.

At this point, I received a text saying Wes was going to be 30 minutes late, so I grabbed my gear, walked out of the activation zone and back in, and activated the summit on 40m. Thanks to Allen VK3HRA for coming up first and spotting me. I worked about 10 stations (including S2S with Glenn VK3YY and Nick VK3ANL) before shutting down, expecting Wes to arrive any minute. After about an hour, Hayden arrived to pick me up, childless, which thankfully eliminated the crazy car swapping needed, because the hour long delay would have rendered our schedule impossible.

We met Wes at Simmons Reef, and started the walk. It was about here that I realised I should have left the Buddistick at the top of Camp Road, as it had already been exited and re-entered into the activation zone, and carrying it added another kilogram I didn’t need to carry.

Start of the walk

Hayden and myself. Wes was designated Combat Correspondent #selfiefail

We estimated the track to be about 12km long from the map. It is narrow in some places, and poorly signposted in others. To be fair, there are warnings on the Great Dividing Trail about missing signage on that section of the track, but still, there were some trailposts that had arrows going in all directions. Perhaps it is their way of ensuring you carry a map. At one point, we failed to find the track, but from the map knew we could walk along a 4WD trail and walk parallel to it before rejoining the track later on.

The initial section of the trail is part of the Lerderderg River Heritage walk, and the track follows the river in the early stages, before climbing out somewhat. The scenery changes very rapidly, at some points similar to rainforest, and others common or garden eucalypt forests. It is also very quiet. We encountered one other family, early in the track section. This reassured us, as they would have scared the snakes away.

Lerderderg River

The scenery

The track is also a bit disconcerting when you look at it on a map. It follows a broad S shape, and you end up feeling like you’ve gone a long way when you first check your position on the map, but you still have a fair amount of doubling back to do. Our first stop was about a fifth of the way along. The next section of the track followed the river around, sitting about 100 metres off a 4WD track that had some, but not a lot of traffic on it. We climbed out of the river valley.

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Loose formations survive ambushes better!

The track intersects with the 4WD track at various points, but always heads off a little apart from it. The trailposts, few that there were, were confusing, but this was merely a hint of the problems further along. We walked about another kilometre, and then we lost the track.

Posing

I last saw it over there!

I say “lost the track” to suggest that we ourselves were not lost. We knew where we were, and a GPS fix helped confirm that, but the track itself was hard to find. The natural curve it follows has you crossing the raging Lerderderg River (see photo below), which the map clearly indicates you shouldn’t, but the point where the track was shown on the map looked like inpenetrable bush. We decided that laziness was the better part of valour, and headed up to the 4WD track and walked along that for about a kilometre.

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The river. Don’t cross the river.

We rejoined the track at a crossroads, complete with trailpost sitting idly by the track and redescended down into the forest. The foliage changed again, then we jumped out at another crossroads. Here the map shows the trail following the 4WD track, although in actual fact it occupies higher ground a few meters to the south of the 4WD track. After a while of scrub bashing, we stopped to treat my blisters (new shoes, remember?) and eat some food. At this point, we decided the scrub bashing was pointless given there was a fully formed track right next to us, and we continued on there.

We again missed the signage to turn off, either through poor eyesight, or simply because the signage doesn’t exist. There is a small picnic ground (Nolan’s Creek Picnic Ground) where we saw a car packing up, but we turned left (south) down another 4WD track (Nolan Creek Track). The map shows the Lerderderg Track following Nolan’s Ridge Track. Hayden rightly read the lay of the land; the track headed to the east of Nolan’s Creek, dry at this time like most of the watercourses we encountered, and we were on the western side of that. We’d considered the western route as a way of shortening the track marginally and had decided we’d choose which way we’d go when we got there. In the end, poor eyesight or signage or both decided for us.

The difference between the two boiled down to a longer, slightly gentler climb up to the high point of Camp Road, versus a more sharp ascent then a walk along the ridge slightly north of where I had parked. We chose the sharp ascent up Mountview Track, graded moderate if you are in a 4WD, graded “bloody stupid” if you’re on foot. Being youngish men, we powered our way up, stopping a few times when we realised we weren’t as “youngish” as we used to be. We passed another track, not marked on the map, called Days Track (I think), which may have been a gentler version of what we did. In any case, it joined in with Mountview Track along the ridge line, leading onto Camp Road, with a short walk up the hill to my car.

I set the gear up for the evening DX session while Hayden used his camp stove to cook up some sausages for hot dogs. I can honestly say it was a glorious meal after the long walk.

A well earned dinner

A well earned, well cooked dinner

I used the linked dipole for the evening session, taking a bit of thought into positioning it for EU contacts. I found clear air up on 14,320 kHz, but while waiting for my phone to process a spot, I noticed Mike 2E0YYY/P on Gun G/SP-013 on 14,330 kHz, so I jumped up there just as he finished a S2S with Tony VK3CAT. I called in, got answered straight away, and we exchanged reports. Mike’s activation was the third chase of a G summit for me, all from Mike. It was also the second unique G summit (both prior chases had been to Shining Tor G/SP-004), which qualified the G association for Mountain Hunter (Bronze). Tony tailended me down to 14,320 again, where we completed another S2S. Tony was on Mt Macedon, the scene of great DX on Australia Day

Being a Monday, the amount of DX chasing was down, but we started the non-S2S with Don G0RQL in Devon, which is about 16,000km away in the short direction. Colin G4UXH also called in from the Lake District, before we had a few harder QSOs with continental Europe, with Frans ON5SWA in Belgium, Herbert OE9HRV in Austria, and a contact into Czech Republic. I got a call in from New Zealand straight after Don to qualify the summit on 20m, and a few VKs also called in, including Matt VK2DAG and Adam VK2YK. My SWR seemed a little high on 20m, compared to normal, but I couldn’t obviously see why.

Talking to People Overseas via Amateur Radio

The station. Casual operating position.

After the QSOs dried up on 20m, I headed up to 12m, a band I had not activated yet. It became obvious why I had a SWR problem when I realised I hadn’t raised the dipole to full height, probably because I was eager for food. I again found a clear frequency at 24,960 kHz and put out a CQ call and got a response from Hide JH7IFM, my first 12m contact and my first JA contact. After assaulting his ears with some Japanese, I found I was getting blatted over, as a DX station had come up 5 kHz below and the split crowd were heading up onto my frequency. I changed down 10kHz, but after five minutes of CQing, decided to call it quits. We had to head back to Simmons Reef to return folks to cars, and then I had a bit over an hour’s journey home.

On the way back, we stopped at Balt Camp to have a look around, playing amateur archaeologists as we tried to work out how everything was set up. Wes finally decided to use his vast experience in DSLR car-roof photos to take another photo, and we were done. All up, it was a great walk, 13 km in total according to the GPS, and finishing with some good DX, a DX Summit to Summit, and some 12m action.

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The three of us, myself, Hayden and Wes #selfiewin

UK trip

My wife and I have been married now for 10 years and to celebrate we’re taking a three week holiday through the UK. The first week we’ll be down in West Dorset, and plan to explore (what’s left of) South West England. I’m going to try to activate a few of the summits in the Devon and Cornwall region while we explore around there, almost certainly High Willhays, and the rest depending on time and weather. There’s a few G/SC-xxx summits near where we are staying too.

As we head north, I’m going to try activate a summit or two in Wales (probably Wentwood GW/SW-033 as it’s on the way to some place my wife wants to see), and possibly a summit or two in the Lake District and Scotland. Skiddaw looks the easiest of the 10 pointers in the Lake District, and possibly Ben Lomond as a Munro, a SOTA summit and being near places we’re staying. It all depends on the weather and our time, of course, but my wife has expressed a desire to climb some mountains and get out and amongst it while we’re over there.

A final summit might be Bishop Wilton Wold (G/TW-004) as my wife has family over that way that we might drop in on.

I can’t guarantee I’ll be on any summit at 0700 UTC for some VK/UK S2S action though!

DX chasing

The past few days have been great for chasing. In particular, on Saturday, having had to forfeit our first tennis final due to one of our players breaking his arm, I was looking for something to cheer me up. That came in the form of Greg VK8GM taking advantage of the start of the new VK8 association to activate VK8/AL-153. He was fairly weak on 20m, but I was using my 40m dipole so no real surprises there. A 44 signal from him, just above the noise, and 51 from me, using nominal 20W. This was the fifth unique association I’d worked.

I also reached out to a few NA stations calling for the ARRL DX contest, as mentioned in the last blog post, before working Peter VK3ZPF on Dingo Ridge (VK3/VC-028) and Allen VK3HRA on Mt Warrenheip (VK3/VC-019). Allen was desperate to head to 20m, and my call delayed that a bit, but he took it in good cheer, and I kept it short. The prize, on 20m, was some Europe DX.

Mike 2E0YYY was up on Shining Tor (G/SP-004) in the Southern Pennines region of England. He was very low down and completely unworkable on my 40m dipole, and marginal on the Buddistick which was still set up. I perhaps could have worked him on the peaks, but it would have been hard. I quickly strung out the linked dipole, ran the feedline back into the radio and put out a call. He was better, a 3/1 signal to me, and I worked him with 60W and a 4/2 signal. That made two new associations for the day.

I passed 1300 chaser points with Andrew VK3BQ on top of Mt Macedon (VK3/VC-007), before last night working Mike again, for a new association (GW – Wales), on top of GW/NW-070. I’d seen his alert, and was home from work early enough to have the dipole strung out ready for him. I saw the spot after dinner, and raced out. I worked him second call, with his signal higher this time (3/3) though still scratchy, and my signal to him 5 and 5. Three new associations in under a week.

My challenge now is to work out which of those will be my first completed association for the Mountain Hunter award. This requires two contacts in the association as a chaser, and all three are unqualified on 1 so far. Once I qualify one of those, I’ll have reached the Bronze level of the Mountain Hunter award.

Finally, all this DX stuff wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Andrew VK1NAM. He probably wasn’t the first VK to work DX on a summit, nor will he be the last, but few have a claim on his persistence at attempting the long-haul back to the antipodes. He’s done it with 50W and he’s done it with 5W, and he’s encouraged plenty of others (myself included) to try as well. He’s demonstrated over and over again what is possible, even in the face of a few that have found it difficult. What’s been great is his enthusiasm has infected those in Europe and the UK as well, who are now providing chasing opportunities for us over here, and chasing us when we activate. My first activation on 20m gave me 1 DX entity. My next produced lots more. So well done, Andrew, and hats off to you.

New Toys part Deux

Hot Shots or Hot Shots Part Deux? The age old question. Both funny films in their own right. Is it won by Admiral Benson’s declaration that, on seeing his men ready to fly their mission, saying “What I wouldn’t give to be 30 years younger. And a woman.” Or is it won by President Benson’s declaration to Saddam Hussein that they’d “settle this in the ol’ Navy way. First person to die, loses.” I don’t know, and I still can’t split them easily, but if you forced me to, I’d say that I’d fallen for the first one, as Topper said, “like a blind roofer.”

And so, if you’re still reading, I think I’ll go for New Toys part one (the FT-857) as my preferred new toy, although part Deux is still good too. I have a need for a good portable antenna that doesn’t require a 7m squid pole, and after reading a few reviews, I went with the Buddistick. Andrew VK1NAM is a fan of the RHM8 by Diamond, but a lot of NA SOTA folks use the Buddistick or Buddipole. The price wasn’t substantially different, so I went with the Buddistick.

It’s very portable, coming with a nice carry case that would fit nicely into a suitcase or backpack, and in testing on the weekend proved itself to work very well. I had it set up outside and was able to work several ARRL DX stations with it, including K3ZJ who gave me a 5/7 from a 100W nominal signal (peaking about 70W), and AG5Z in Mississippi, who gave me a *cough* 5/9. A 5/9, you say? You must be joking! If I were joking, I would have said, “What do you do with an elephant with three balls? You walk him and pitch to the Rhino.”

These were my first two NA stations worked, and with a compromised vertical antenna, with some good signal reports. Of course, the 5/9 is just the contest exchange, but I didn’t get the sense I was low down on any of the contacts. Using the principle of reciprocity, given their 500W outputs and 5/7 signals, my 100W or so was probably about a 5/4. So I’m happy with the performance, and happy with the portability of it. I’ll still use my linked dipole around Victoria, but if I activate when I travel, the Buddistick will be the first antenna thrown in.

A zip up bag with two antennae, height extenders, a loading coil, a long wire counterpoise and a mounting clamp.

A zip up bag with two antennae, height extenders, a loading coil, a long wire counterpoise and a mounting clamp.

deployed on a cheap camera tripod

deployed on a cheap camera tripod