VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: October, 2017

SOTA Dinner

Shabu shabu is, for me, the taste of Japan. I could eat at a shabu shabu restaurant daily, and indeed have been accused of doing just that (it wasn’t daily, my colleague and I ate something different on the Wednesday). So Toru JH0CJH, JA Association Manager knew exactly where to book and we organised as usual to catch up with as many SOTA folks we could find.

This time, we had a smaller group, Toru, myself and Jun JI1IHV (who was present last SOTA dinner), and after a while his son joined, as well as Aki JM3NCT. The conversation as expected was SOTA related, along with jealousy about what foreigners pay for airfares and Shinkansen tickets, and lots of images of Toru hitting the beef or pork button again to order – 5 or 6 at a time, and mysterious drinks arriving about the same time I was due to finish my previous one.

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Shabu shabu

There are now about 100 activators in Japan, and about 200 chasers, which is a
phenomenal amount of activity in Japan after around 2 years of being active.

A fun evening as always, and I look forward to the next time (at a Shabu Shabu restaurant).

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Jun JH1IWV, Leo JI1UPL, me, Toru JH0CJH, Aki JM3NCT

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13 Oct 2017 – JA5/KA-015 Kiyama

A work trip to Korea resulted in me yet again finding some cheaper airfares flying through Japan. This is because flying to Korea is somehow a very expensive flight, whether you go via Hong Kong or Sydney. Doing a round trip via Tokyo and back via Hong Kong can sometimes save a few hundred dollars, and as a model employee, finding those savings are always a good thing. The side benefit of being able to visit one of my favourite countries is merely a side benefit.

In Oct 2014 when we started looking at SOTA in Japan, I started to see country that was filled with beautiful mountains, varying tremendously depending on volcanic or seismic construction. It was logical then that I would want to see the full breadth and variety of Japan once it entered SOTA. The fact that there are four associations and I chase associations as part of Mountain Explorer means I had double incentive.

On my last trip through, I activated JA6 and JA, courtesy of cheap fare options, and this time around, I wanted to close out the list, doing JA5 and JA8. For JA5, I flew into Takamatsu, using Japan Airlines’ Welcome to Japan/Visit Japan fares, which allow cheap (~$100) airfares if you are a foreigner and arrive on a Oneworld itinerary (which I was). For JA8, I found a cheaper option again, to use the JR East Tohoku-South Hokkaido rail pass. Compared with the JAL airfares, they are about the same price, but you can use it on Narita Express services and around Tokyo as well, which meant I was certain to extract substantially more value out of it. It’s basically a Tokyo-and-North version of the Japan Rail Pass at a correspondingly cheaper price and no restrictions on services.

So, that meant I had means to get to where I wanted to get to, but which summits? The logical summits for JA5 are around Takamatsu and Tokushima. Both are about 1 hour from Tokyo Haneda, but Takamatsu has regular flights and more summits near the airport, which edges it out in my books. My second rule is to go for summits someone has already activated, guaranteeing there’s access (or an activation that needs removing 😉 ).

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We climbed out of Tokyo in cloud and then cruised on top

I found JA5/KA-066 Jissoujiyama, which is about a 15 minute drive from the airport, had nearby parking (in a cemetery), and a visible path up on the GSI Japan maps. I emailed Sakaiさん, JG5JXW, who advised me against the summit, saying the path was overgrown, and recommending instead JA5/KA-064 Kamisayama, right next to -066, also with parking in a cemetery.

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Landing between big mountains

Sakaiさん indicated he would potentially pick me up from the airport if he could get time off work, but this was not expected by me, as I was happy to organise a rental car. Instead, Sakaiさん organisec for Fukunoさん JF5VHW to pick me up, and suggested KA-015 Kiyama, as it was a drive up summit. At about a 45 minute drive, this wasn’t as close as the others, but eliminated a 30 minute walk, so it was all even anyway.

Japanese is not a language I speak fluently (unless you want me to order beer, food or hold grammatically-awkward conversations), and English is not a language that Fukunoさん speaks much at all – much less Australian accented and dialected English, but hospitality is a universal language, and Google Translate handles the rest. I arrived at Takamatsu airport on time, found Fukunoさん at the specified location and we headed out to Kiyama.

I’ll admit we struggled with conversation; Fukunoさん’s Japanese was very quick for me and though I tended to work out what he was saying, there was a lot of apologising and saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” in Japanese (a phrase I am good with!).

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The trig point

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We arrived at Kiyama, and to save a (15 metre) walk, Fukunoさん paid scant regard to a wooden bollard blocking a cobbled path from the car park to the trig point and proceeded to mount the kerb and drive right up to the trig point. Unfortunately, the weather is a factor I can’t control, and we had low cloud that largely blocked the view. I set up with the travel pole attached to a wooden seat and the dipole stretched out between two signs. No one else arrived in the time we were there.

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The station

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The station

I jumped on 40m SSB and made two contacts after spotting, and then switched to CW, the new association, Number 23, in the bag. After RBNHole[/a] spotted me (the guy who wrote that software is a legend), I ended up with a bunch more people in the log and a pile-up of epic proportions. My ability to read callsigns from Japan is improving, but I had to do a number of repeats, but after JP1QEC was in the log, I had 4 and the point on offer for Kiyama. Another 9 people ended up in the log, from a number of different prefectures.

After a while, I switched back to SSB, as I found I couldn’t quite concentrate any more on pulling callsigns out of the pileup. No further SSB contacts were made.

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Fukunoさん – JF5VHW

The rain swept in occasionally, and Fukunoさん graciously held an umbrella over the rig while I used a poncho to keep myself dry. The other side benefit of the rain was it cleared out the view a bit, and afterwards we were able to take a few decent photographs of the view. The drive up the mountain is quite spectacular until we ended up in the cloud, at which point it becomes a single-lane-did-I-book-travel-insurance kind of road.

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The approach drive as the cloud cover dropped

On the way down, Fukunoさん was determined to show me the Great Seto Bridge from Takamatsu to the mainland, one of the longest bridges. The drive into Takamatsu took a bit longer than I’d hoped, and with bags to check I was getting nervous, but I had nothing to fear. Fukunoさん showed me the bridge (very impressive!) and then drove to the airport with scant regard for speed limits.

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The long bridge. This doesn’t quite capture the scale of it, but it’s big

My flight out at 2pm was non-refundable, but we made it, even having time to divert for a very quick stop for some udon for lunch. They slapped the noodles into a bowl, we added soup, and we ate in under 2 minutes. This type of udon is called Bukkake Udon (no sniggering in the back there…). We drove like we were about to miss my flight (which was almost true), but arrived at the airport with about 25 minutes to spare.

I want to specifically thank Fukunoさん JF5VHW for unbelievable hospitality in driving me around – it was unexpected but gratefully received. And thank you too Sakaiさん for answering questions and organising Fukunoさん. This is the spirit of ham radio and of SOTA.

The flight was ultimately delayed by about 30 minutes, which meant I was OK, and after clearing security, boarded the flight and made it back Tokyo in time to phone the wife, provide remote technical support to the children (they didn’t want to talk about anything else), and then head to the SOTA Japan dinner. I took the opportunity to reserve a seat on the Shinkansen the next day for JA8, but the late flight and the phone call had prevented me from having too much of a look around Akihabara.

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South East from summit

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Looking North East from the summit

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Western panorama

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A sign explaining how the Seto Inland Sea formed

VK3/VE-126 Mount Stanley

A romantic weekend away with the wife is never complete without a bit of SOTA, and for once, I’m not being euphemistic. We went up to Beechworth, and the nearest summit, drive-up is Mt Stanley, VK3/VE-126.

I had about an hour, so set up quickly, worked 7 QSOs, and we headed back down for a dinner booking. Easy summit to activate if you are in the area!

No pictures of this one.

Rimutaka Trig ZL1/WL-054

A trip into New Zealand led to wanting to find a summit around Wellington to activate. I found two to the north east of the city off State Highway 2, both starting from Rimutaka Saddle. The first is along a pylon access track and relatively unmarked, the second is the path to the Rimutaka Trig.

My initial plans were to go to the summit on the access track, but by the time I arrived at the saddle, the cloud base was very low, and my ability to see the path, coupled with leaving the NZTopo maps I’d printed out behind, meant I was no longer comfortable with my journey. Instead, I opted for the easier path up to the top of Rimutaka Trig.

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The Rimutaka Saddle car park map

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Warning – extreme winds.

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Easy sign to find

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The walks available

I met one person coming down, but otherwise, the trip was a non-event, just a 20 minute slog up the track with a few switchbacks until you hit the top of the summit, where there is a bench seat and a trig point.

In order to reduce pack weight, I’d switched my linked dipole over to a smaller arrangement, using SMA connectors and RG-316, but had not had a chance to test it out. Sure enough, at the top of the hill, I couldn’t get a signal out on HF. Later fault tracing proved it was the SMA-to-PL259 adaptor, not the dipole itself.

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The trig

I was forced instead to move to 2m FM, which yielded just two contacts, Warren ZL2AJ who was visiting Wellington himself on family business, and Ted ZL2JTD. Attempts to drum up contacts via the Belmont repeater were unsuccessful, but not due to a lack of trying by people in Wellington. The Rimutakas are shielded from Wellington directly, making it hard for simplex FM contacts.

However, I did get to qualify the summit for Mountain Explorer (VHF) status, and had a good chat with Warren and Ben ZL2BEN on the repeater on the way back down. I headed back, and having lunch in Petone, got a call from Wynne ZL2ATH, who offered to supply me with a dipole, which was much appreciated. We caught up on the foreshore, and I tried the summit Kaukau instead.

That was equally a bust – the wind had picked up by then and I came out onto the plateau and discovered I couldn’t actually walk forwards, the wind was that strong. Realising the universe was telling me something, I headed back down and back to Petone to hand Wynne back his dipole.

All up, no points, but a good bit of climbing and some nice contacts.

20 May 2017 – Flinders Peak – VK3/VC-030

This summit was an adjunct to a longer walk taken from Little River station back to my home in North Geelong – all up, 37km. Joining me on this walk was a work colleague, Alan, who met me at Little River station at about 7:30am. We set off towards the You Yangs, and about an hour later were at the entrance to the park on the eastern side.

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Alan and I at Little River

We took a quick break, then took the Branding Yard track up to the Turntable, and climbed up the summit. There I broke out the 2m HT, and put out some CQ calls. THe plan was make it all happen quickly, and then head down. Instead, I got 3 in the log and a lot of questions. I worked Tony VK3CAT either side of rollover, but it was Glenn VK3YY at Mt Baw Baw that finally got me the 4 contacts and at 160km, was a great way to finish up.

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Alan and I atop Flinders Peak

Once completed, we headed down the summit and out the park’s south entrance (the main one), and walked along Forest Road into Lara. I don’t recommend this approach, but it does end up at Rob’s Bakery, which I certainly recommend.

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Pie number 1 at Rob’s Bakery. Pie number 2 is in the bag.

From there, we walked through the back streets of Lara to Bacchus Marsh Road (having to take a detour when roadworks blocked Heales Road, then down Bacchus Marsh Road to Princes Highway, where we took a sneaky KFC run.

The down the Princes Highway on the eastern side, crossing over at the Ford’s factory, across the railway tracks, and down by North Geelong station. We just missed a train, so Alan walked the kilometre or so home with me and we had a beer, before returning to the station and taking the train back to Little River.

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A nice brew to finish

30 APR 2017 – Mt Toolebewong, Mt Donna Buang and Mt Gordon

Having not played SOTA since Korea, and having missed a few opportunities to do so, I resolved to spend a day out playing SOTA, and, if I was going to play SOTA, I was going to get some good points and maybe a few uniques in the process. I found a path that took me via Mt Toolebewong (VK3/VC-033), Mt Donna Buang (VK3/VC-002) and Mt Gordon (VK3/VN-027) for a total of 16 points, which would get me close to 300 points for Mountain Goat.

The SOTA gods appeared to be against me when I woke up at about 10 minutes to 5am, got up, abluted and then headed back to bed for an hour or so.  Needless to say, my ability to read clocks having just woken up is not my strong point – it was 6am, not 5am, and I ended up waking up at about quarter to 7 instead.  Given I’d set myself a departure time of 7 meant I was scrambling to make up time.  I got on the road at 7:15am, which makes me feel bad when I take an hour or more to get ready of a usual morning.

In any case, with an audio book playing in the car, SOTA gear in the back, I made good time and arrived at Mt Toolebewong not much later than I’d alerted.  I followed the instructions from Paul VK3HN on the SOTAwatch summits page to get to the location, set up, watched as my antenna fell down, and then set up again.  I had fairly high SWR on 40m, and found contacts thin on the ground.  I could hear Andrew VK1AD and Al VK1RX on Mt Wee Jasper (VK2/ST-017), and it was a struggle to work them, but they got in the log before rollover for the S2S points.

I switched to 20m after the rollover, and immediately got Alex VK4TE, who was chasing LGAs, but I couldn’t give him a new one.  After that, John ZL1BYZ and Jacky ZL1WA got in the log with their usual clear signal, before I worked Tony VK3CAT on 2m FM.  A switch back to 40m and a diagnosis of the SWR problem (one of the links is a bit dodgy after travelling around the world a few times), I got Andrew and Al again for more S2S points, and had a quick chat with some of the local residents who’d heard me working Tony and came up for a chat.

I packed up, and headed up to Mt Donna Buang.  Along the way, I had a conversation with Tony about access to Mt Vinegar, and decided discretion was the better part of valour and that I’d go with Mt Gordon instead, which proved to be a good idea anyway, as Nick VK3ANL later posted he’d found the track Tony had suggested as having a locked gate on it.

The drive to Mt Donna Buang from Healesville is along a well graded dirt road for the most part, although it is sealed in some sections, and this morning, with the sun streaming through the trees illuminating the low cloud, it was a very pretty drive.  I disturbed a lyrebird and two wallabies, before arriving at Mt Donna Buang and using the convenient picnic table I’ve always used when I’ve gone there.

With the SWR problem diagnosed, and fixed courtesy of an excess of duct tape, I could no longer easily work 20m, but 40 was much more alive now, and I got VK1, VK2, VK3, VK4, VK5 and VK7 into the log in under 20 minutes, and a move to 15m got John and Jacky again, and Tony on ground wave.  A quick stint back on 40m while waiting for Peter VK3PF to arrive at his summit got Steve VK7CW, before Peter jumped in from VK3/VE-033, to go with the earlier S2S with Andrew and Al (again) and Wade VK1FWBD on Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040.

I packed up and headed to Mt Gordon along Acheron Way.  This was slower than I’d anticipated, but didn’t really impact my timings that much, and I reached the turn-off and sent the mighty Corolla up Mt Gordon Rd.  Recent rains had made the lower sections a bit slipper with loose stones which made the traction control light come on, something I hadn’t seen before, so I guess that’s another highlight.  I arrived at the top, parked the car off the road at the comms facility and set up.  There’s a few trees to set up on, but I tried jamming the squid pole into the ground and reinforcing with stones.  This resulted in the squid pole falling onto the fence of the comms facility.  I tried again, and it fell again, this time ripping out the coax from the dipole.

A small amount of MacGuyvering (well, jamming the centre conductor into the connector and duct taping it solid) meant I no longer was comfortable raising the dipole to its full height, so I just stretched it out about a meter off the ground, with one side just lying on the ground.  Needless to say, I made 13 QSOs with great signal reports, regardless of the state of the antenna.  A highlight was a S2S with Tony VK3CTM who responded to a half-hearted CQ on 2m with the news he was on Mt Alexander VK3/VN-016.  Peter VK3PF followed up from Mt Winstanley VK3/VE-036, making me grateful I’d left the radio on 40m while I tried 2m.  5 more contacts in 2 minutes wrapped up the session and I was done and heading home.

The trip home was easy enough, other than getting stuck behind a convoy of historical army vehicles, but once they pulled over to let the 2km of cars behind them past, it was straightforward.  16 points in total, which took me to 295 points.  My next aim was to pass 300.