VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: May, 2016

ZL3/MB-093 Altimarloch – AKA ZL3 Goes Live – 1 May 2016

As luck would have it, a work trip to NZ was postponed from around the 1st of April until the 1st week of May, just in time for ZL3 to go live. This is twice now this has happened, and it is definitely coincidental. With flights in on Saturday, I figured I could try Altimarloch, a “drive up” summit south of Blenheim as a way to cross this association off the list, and get to 15 activated associations.

I offered Warren ZL2AJ a chance to join me for a joint activation, something he jumped at, and he flew into Blenheim the day before with his partner Emma, while I prepared ferry rides across the Cook Strait. I had never met Warren, but we had worked very closely on getting the ZL associations off the ground. I offered to pick him and Emma up in Blenheim, and he organised access to Altimarloch, via 2602 Awatere Valley Road. After initially booking a ferry ride on the 8am service, I changed instead to the sleeper service leaving 2:30am, but allowing you to board at 11pm and get to sleep.

I arrived into Picton at 6am, but could not pick up a hire car until 8am, so I leeched some free wifi in the ferry terminal for a little bit, before walking around Picton on my way over to the Avis car rental place. Like most of the South Island, Picton is nestled in between a valley that leads down to Queen Charlotte Sound, a fiord that would do Slartibartfast proud. For those curious, the difference between a Fiord and a Sound is basically in the spelling.

Queen Charlotte Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound from the beach

Queen Charlotte Sound from the beach (seriously, it’s 3 photos worth pretty)

The Bluebridge Ferry

The Bluebridge Ferry

After arriving at the Avis terminal, I waited 30 minutes past 8am before speaking with the Hertz lady, who spoke to the Europcar guy, who called the Avis lady at her home, said nothing more than “It’s Mike from Europcar” before hanging up and saying “She’s on her way”. The answer was basically Picton time, that nebulous time so beloved of small country towns. As a regular car-hirer, she gave me a full size 4WD rather than the Rav4 I’d ordered, which was nice, and useful later on.

I’d told Warren I’d be about 9am in Blenheim, which, even with the delays, I only missed by about 5-10 minutes. Some of that time was spent with me staring open mouthed out the window at the mountain scenery – simply beautiful. We met at Warren’s accommodation, and then drove down to Altimarloch, the first gate being about 40-45 minutes from Blenheim.

In total there were three gates along the track we took, and I’d rate the track up to the third gate as easy 2WD material. From then on, it became a bit more obvious that were going to be climbing 1500m in altitude. The track was never narrow, but there were steep dropoffs and large rocks that made me hope there was underbody protection on the 4WD. I am not sure a Rav4 would have sufficient clearance over some of the rocks – well, the first one anyway..after the sump is out the way, there’d be a heap more clearance!

My overriding thought as I stared out the window was that the side of the mountain seemed to be a steep cliff, and we were climbing it. We reached the top after the track widened out along the summit ridge line at around 10:30am, with the association going live at 12 midday. We set up and took photos until about 11:30am, had lunch and then got out to activate.

Setting up

Setting up

Setting up

Setting up

Warren and Emma set up an 80m dipole

Warren and Emma set up an 80m dipole

I was using about 25W into a linked dipole at 4m height, courtesy of the Shrinkenpole. It worked far better than the last time I’d used it, so I think I will consider bringing this along on future overseas activations, weight notwithstanding. The radio was the usual FT-857. Warren uses a KX-3 and somehow managed to bring a 163Wh battery along through Blenheim airport.

Eastern panorama

Eastern panorama

North

North

East - the approach road

East – the approach road

South

South

North

North

Internet coverage was intermittent, so I texted Andrew VK1AD my frequency, and he was the first QSO in ZL3 worked. I stayed on 20m for the majority of the time, with Warren on 40m, and us moving between each other’s stations to chase S2S opportunities. I ended up with another 17 S2S points, which leaves me at 998 S2S points. I’ve already castigated Allen VK3ARH for not being on a six pointer instead of his 4 pointer 🙂

Warren and I set up out of the wind.  Warren on 40m, I'm on 20m

Warren and I set up out of the wind. Warren on 40m, I’m on 20m

Completing a QSO, whilst squatting heroically

Completing a QSO, whilst squatting heroically

Plenty of summit infrastructure to attach squid poles to

Plenty of summit infrastructure to attach squid poles to

Calling CQ on 20m

Calling CQ on 20m

After a while, the SSB QSOs dried up, so I switched to CW, harder as I now had a big prefix to my callsign to remember. I mangled the callsign many times over the next half an hour or so, but worked into ZL1, VK2, VK3 and VK5, with the highlight being a contact with John VK6NU, about a 5000km QSO.

Working CW on 20m, a picture of concentration

Working CW on 20m, a picture of concentration

I got up and walked around a bit after that, playing with my 2m handheld. I walked out of the activation zone to work Warren, as well as Paul ZL2RE on another Marlborough summit. Paul and Warren were working hard on trying to make an 80m QSO, but local noise was causing difficulties.

2m S2S

2m S2S

After this, I pulled the links for 15m, and, after hearing a JA station, got a bunch of VKs in the log – about 15 all up. A JA activator on 21.310 wasn’t audible to me so no additional S2S points – but that would have been an epic way to cross the 1000 mark.

15m pileup

15m pileup

After the pileup receded, we realised we needed to pack up and head back into Blenheim, so I went QRT (Matt VK2DAG just managing to scrape in), and we packed up and headed down. The trip down was interesting for two factors – one, the steepness of the descent and the smell of the brakes at the bottom (no fade, but they sure were warm), and two, the fact my drink bottle was nicely crumpled due to the large pressure differential of about 5,000 feet (1693m to near enough to sea level). I haven’t seen that before – Altimarloch was actually the highest mountain I’d successfully activated (Suikerbosrand in South Africa was about 200m higher, but that whole area is already 1000m above sea level).

Awatere Valley

Awatere Valley

I can’t stop talking about the view. It was simply stunning. You could see right up to the North Island, and in all directions. The photos can’t do the view justice.

In all, I had a great time with Warren activating. The goal of association 15 was met, so I now qualify for Mountain Explorer Gold level, and the ZL3 association chased now is Mountain Hunter Silver. I missed out on the S2S goal of 1,000 points, but that will happen soon enough. The more important thing was that Warren and I got to spend some quality time activating together, as well as great conversation. Hopefully we can do many other activations together.

Warren and I.

Warren and I.

After dropping Warren and Emma at Blenheim airport on the way back, I drove around Picton a little bit more, before returning the car and walking back to the ferry terminal. The ferry ride back was much less calm then the ferry ride over, particularly as I was tired, but I made it to Wellington without going the vom, and made it back to the hotel around midnight.

A note regarding the photos – the vast majority of summit activity was taken by Emma, particular those photos with Warren and I in them. She has kindly allowed me to use them on my blog. I have only one criticism, and it’s the photo of me squatting above, for what it reveals of my hair.

Clearly, the attempts over these past few years to deny global warming-like the receding nature of my hairline has reached a point that I must deny my ideology and accept it is happening. So the question to the group now is, should I take the plunge and just go over the top with a well-placed No 4 clipper?

VK7/SC-045 – Mt Rumney

After Salamanca, the kids wanted to head back to the motel and my wife thought that was a good idea. I asked my wife what she wanted for the afternoon, and she said an afternoon without the kids. She said this right as I was playing with SOTA Finder on my phone, and seeing Mt Rumney not 5km away from where we were staying in Bellerive. It looked a drive up, and had promise, so I told my wife I’d take the kids to the mountain, give her a few hours to herself, and kill multiple birds with one stone.

The kids would need some bribing first, though. For the whole trip, we’d borrowed Harry Potter audiobooks, and we were halfway through the Chamber of Secrets. I offered the kids, who never liked leaving the car during a good bit, the opportunity to listen to Harry Potter for hours. They leapt at the opportunity. I bundled them in the car, drove to the top of Mt Rumney and began to set up.

I used the linked dipole this time, and this seemed to work a lot better. 40m was in good enough shape that I got 12 stations in the log in relatively quick time, including John ZL1BYZ again.

A switch to 20m brought in an Italian station who thought I was WWFF, and 3 VKs, before a raft of European DX, including OK, ON, DL and OE. I worked John ZL1BYZ again, with 20m allowing more of a chat, before another VK. At this point, I checked on the kids, who had learnt how to change the disc, which gave me about another 74 minutes. None of them needed toilet breaks yet.

At this point, I figured two from two, so I put up a spot for CW on 14.061 and immediately had a sense of dread. 20m was open to Europe, and my CW skills on callsigns wasn’t great. I had two takers though, OK1PDT for a new mode, and PA1BR for a new entity on CW. A switch back to SSB brought in Don G0RQL for another DXCC, before I worked Andrew VK1AD on 40m (an arranged call) and Warren ZL2AJ back on 20m after work.

At this point, the kids were still happy, but time was pressing, so I packed it all up and we went home. Kids happy, wife happy, lots of DX and survived 20m CW, so I was happy!

VK7/SC-001 – Mt Wellington

After reaching Hobart, I had permission to finally tackle some SOTA. I knew that Mt Wellington was an easy drive-up, so I decided to try instead Collins Cap, after dropping the wife and kids in town. I had read a number of articles on this particular walk, and parked the car at an unexpected locked gate up from Myrtle Forest. The walk in was therefore longer than anticipated, and by the time I reached Myrtle Falls, I was doing the maths in my head and realising that I’d have about 5 minutes on the summit to set up, activate and pack up to make it back to Hobart in time.

I cancelled my alert, and then decided to go straight to Mt Wellington. I would have about 90 minutes at the top on the basis of the agreed meeting point with the family.

As mentioned, Mt Wellington is the easiest 10 pointer you’ll do, a simple drive right to the top. The summit is always crowded, so I set up near the shelter I’d seen on Justin VK7TW’s blog. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people around, so I opted to use the vertical, attached to the fascia board of the shelter, and strung out the counterpoise along the rock line.

I started on 40m, and Col VK3LED came back at 11:36 am to give me my 14th association, VK7. A slow effort led to 4 contacts on 40m SSB – not the vertical’s most efficient band. I decided, therefore, to use 20m. I worked two contacts on 20m on SSB and then decided I’d go for it. I’d use CW on an activation.

My CW skills are OK. They aren’t fantastic, but I’d probably pass a 5 wpm test if I had to. I have been practicing at 15wpm, at which speed I’m not much cop. So, I spotted myself on 14.061 MHz, and after a short while, back came an almost unintelligible stream of CW at about 30 wpm. I asked them to QRS, and I realised I had a ZL station, ZL1BYZ in the log. BYZ? BQZ? BYZ? BQZ? something like that, anyway. I settled on BYZ, and was grateful to see I was right!

Rick VK4RF also responded, and I answered a few kids’ questions about morse code while I packed up. I met up with the family at Salamanca Place, and had lunch and took the kids off my wife’s hands.

A really bad shot of Hobart from the top

A really bad shot of Hobart from the top

Freycinet National Park – VKFF-188 – 14 April 2016

A Tasmanian family holiday presented an interesting opportunity to grab SOTA summits, and perhaps some parks. We started in the north of the state, where I saw quite a few SOTA summits, but most were reasonable climbs or requiring too much time, so I settled for a bit of 2m repeater action, using my handheld to get into the Mt Barrow repeater, about 100km away to the east of where we were staying. I spoke with VK7CR (Huonville, via linked repeater) and VK7VDX on Flinders Island – an ex-Geelong person.

After the north, we headed to the east coast, and stayed a few nights in Coles Bay. There are also SOTA summits here – the accessible one, Mt Amos, calling for a 5 hr return walk graded extremely difficult. I opted out although I doubt I would have been allowed to anyway as I was the only driver and injury meant having to cancel the planned trip.

Coles Bay

Coles Bay

In the morning, we climbed up to Wineglass Bay Lookout, explored Cape Tourville lighthouse, and then had lunch by Honeymoon Bay. Eventually, the kids were tired and wanted to stay at the accommodation for a bit, so my wife agreed to let me take the radio and set up in Freycinet NP for VKFF. I chose Cape Tourville to set up at, as it seemed the easiest spot, and I had seen some good areas to tie a dipole off to.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

Honeymoon Bay

Honeymoon Bay

I set up out of the way, and discovered that the BNC connector on the balun was loose, and the lack of a screwdriver prevented me from reaching it to fix it. I settled for jiggling the cable to get what I needed. This was after trying for 30 minutes to make a decent contact.

Once the problem was troubleshooted (troubleshot?) I managed to work 20-odd contacts on 40m, including a park-to-park, before eventually I had to descend. At that point, I realised the rock I had been sitting on had blocked blood flow to my left leg, and this had made it numb. Having no feeling and trying to walk around packing up is a difficult thing, and after the pins and needles subsided, I completed the tear down and walked back to the car. Freycinet is a beautiful part of the world, and I shall have to return in order to get the remaining contacts for 44.

Cape Tourville Lighthouse

Cape Tourville Lighthouse

AM Weekend – 2 April 2016

In what has now become a yearly tradition (well, two years now…) the weekend of April Fool’s Day is a day to drag out AM DSB-FC onto a Summit and take the time to make contacts, thus demonstrating the wisdom of SSB for the rest of the year.

This time, as last time, I headed up to Mt Buninyong. I worked Peter VK3PF first on SSB to get a park in the log, before switching to AM and heading right up above 7.150MHz. I worked 8 on AM, including Allen VK3ARH who asked me why I hadn’t told him I was coming up to his local summit.

I then switched to SSB on 40m and on 20m, the highlight being working Mike VK6MB on 40m (and also on 20m). Allen showed up around then, and while I fiddled about on some of the higher bands (the only contact being Tony VK3CAT on 10m), we discussed various SOTA related matters.

We finished up chasing Russ VK2BJP/3 for a S2S on VK3/VE-014, and then Gerard on VK2/HU-056.

All up, a great day’s activation, and a finer appreciation for the joys of SSB, which, even if not as efficient a mode as CW, is certainly a damn sight more efficient than AM!