VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

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.

PA/PA-002 – Vrouwenheide

Work yet again had me travelling, this time to the UK, and I decided I’d take the opportunity to get a few new associations into the log. My first thought was to consider DM and maybe DL, with Grosser Feldberg and some of the simpler DL summits near Munich as possibilities. The deciding factor ultimately was flights out of London in the evening after my meetings in the UK, and that meant Frankfurt. A quick look at SOTA Maps, and an idea began forming for a 4 association tour – starting at Frankfurt, getting Grosser Feldberg in the log, up via the Netherlands, then a few Belgian summits and finally a French summit and a ferry back from Calais.

This plan started to develop traction in my mind, until I looked at the cost of a one-way car rental, which was more than twice the cost of the rental itself. Three times the price for a one way trip suggested I needed to head back to Frankfurt. This suggested I could get in Luxembourg instead of France, although I found an easy option just over the French border – a quick jaunt then back to Frankfurt? It’d be a very full day with a high risk of missing a return flight, but it’d be five Associations (DM, PA, ON, LX, F). Five! By chance, I had a German who sat behind me at work, who, on reviewing my plan, called them insane and got to work injecting sanity back into proceedings.

For starters, we looked at reversing the loop – not a bad option in actual fact, but didn’t quite line up with available hotels. Instead, I headed north west, and stopped at Heiligenroth, near Montabaur, about an hour north of Frankfurt. This cut an hour off my travel time the next day, and I suggested instead extending this further, but once again, Mark, my sane German, decided this was a dumb idea, and Heilegenroth it was. I’d never admit that he was right, but I’m not sure I’d have wanted to travel too much further than Heilegenroth that first night. The net result of this was postponing the DM summit to the next day, prior to my flight.

The hotel was cheap and cheerful, but morning came far too quickly, and a cheap breakfast eaten quickly meant I got on the road roughly at my planned time. I’d been given an SUV instead of the Volkswagen Golf sized option I’d paid for, so I was pleased by this (for now), set the satnav going, and headed off for Vrouwenheide, just over the Netherlands border. The drive up was fairly straightforward (Autobahns are fun!), and the satnav sent me via Koblenz in order to avoid traffic, which seemed to work out nicely.

When I’d put out my plans on SOTAwatch, I received an email from Phil ON4TA, who was keen to meet up for a joint activation. He told me where and when, and said there’d be a station set up ready to go. He wasn’t wrong. I arrived at Vrouwenheide about 10-15 minutes later than planned, but Phil said I made good time, which suggests he thought my original schedule was optimistic! In any case, he kept his promises, and there sat an 857 hooked up and ready to go, complete with clear frequency (of which there are not many in Europe on 40m).

Phil ON4TA demonstrating the use of the provided equipment.

Phil ON4TA demonstrating the use of the provided equipment.

The calls came in quick and fast, and it wasn’t long before I had 18 in the log, all on SSB. I had a quick chat with Phil afterwards, before he basically told me to get going if I was going to make my schedule. Ever the gentleman, I took my leave, and jumped back in the car, heading for my next target, ON/ON-010 Baraque Fraiture

Me working the hordes

Me working the hordes

Thank you, Phil, for the enjoyable activation of PA/PA-002, the conversation and the equipment. Much appreciated, and should you visit VK, the favour will be returned!

Vrouwenheide sign, near where we parked our cars

Vrouwenheide sign, near where we parked our cars

Looking back up at Vrouwenheide

Looking back up at Vrouwenheide. Head for the gap in the trees.

VK3/VS-051 and VK3/VS-050

A ‘quick’ trip down to Portland gave me an opportunity to try activating a few summits along the route – Mt Clay (VK3/VS-051), which I activated over lunch, and Mt Leura (VK3/VS-050), which I tried to grab on the drive back. This was partly to be a test of equipment to be used in my European sojourn in a few weeks time.

Mt Clay is at the end of a dirt road, with relatively easy access from Portland. There was a lot of water on the road on the way down to Portland, courtesy of the several inches of rain that’d fallen over the previous week, but this wasn’t a big issue at Mt Clay. I attached my dipole to a new travel pole and tried to get it up in the air.

Higher than I’d like SWR meant I wasn’t getting a great signal out, but I managed to get 8 contacts, 6 on CW and 2 on SSB. I packed up and continued home, stopping at Mt Leura on the way.

This was to be an opportunistic activation, 15 minutes, and again I was plagued by the high SWR, despite being able to get the antenna much higher and straighter this time. No contacts were made, and by now it was getting late, so I continued on. Some interest on Mt Leura in what I was doing, particularly by an older couple. The “Have you heard about mobile phones” ‘joke’ came out too. Any reports of a bearded man punching an elderly couple hard in the face in the Camperdown area are not to be regarded as true.

Later testing showed a DC resistance of several hundred ohms across the coax, so yet again something was wrong with the feedline – it’s RG-174 so you basically just have to look at it and it’s broken. Other examples of the same length were closer to 2-3 ohms DC resistance. I swapped out cables and had no troubles in Europe with SWR.

Mt Leura vista

Mt Leura vista

Antenna with new travel pole

Antenna with new travel pole

KU6J SOTASpotMonitor

For those who have been missing SOTASpotMonitor after the passing of Eric KU6J, I have reverse-engineered the last known version to work again.  This modification is done with little testing, but posting spots and monitoring spots should now work again.

Grab the file here: SOTASpotMonitor.exe

You will need to right-click, save the file and rename to SOTASpotMonitor.exe.  Replace the SOTASpotMonitor.exe file in your existing installation with the new one.  You should now be able to see spots.  I haven’t tested posting spots, but again, it should work.

VK3/VC-030 – Flinders Peak

Having built a 4 element yagi, I decided I needed to get out and test it, so I organised with Andrew VK1AD to try for a bit of Aircraft Enhancement with me on Flinders Peak. Unfortunately, Andrew was alerted to be on the wrong side of the Brindabella Ranges, but he agreed to give it a go.

I packed up the 4 element yagi, as well as a 7 element 70cm yagi I’d also knocked up, and took it and the only tripod now in my possession – a battered, old, heavy, surveyor’s tripod – up to the top of the You Yangs. The walk up was easier than in the past, perhaps a sign I’m improving my fitness finally. The only problem was breaking out onto the summit, I copped the full blast of the bitterly cold south-westerly that was blowing.

A 7 element 70cm yagi to go with the 2m one

A 7 element 70cm yagi to go with the 2m one

I set up, pointing north east, and worked Ron VK3AFW first for my first ever 2m SSB contact. After that, contacts dried up. Ron mentioned he was having a lot of difficulty making many contacts via AE that morning, and he surmised that we likely had an inversion that was preventing our signals from reaching the aircraft. A bit of coordination with Andrew via SMS led to a few more attempts, but we never made contact.

The yagi deployed.

The yagi deployed.

I made contact with VK3VKT in Werribee, who was testing out a new antenna as well, before closing it out with Ron and Tony VK3CAT on 2m FM. The wind was blowing very strongly, and I had to rescue my log book a few times before it disappeared down the mountain, but it was watching the wind get in under my phone and threaten to flip it over that made me decide it was time to descend. Four contacts made, but not much success to show.

The look of a man whose testicles have just reascended.

The look of a man whose testicles have just reascended.

I have since modified the yagis to use branded Belden coaxial cable for the quarter wave matching section – it appears that getting good quality cable means you’re much more likely to be close to the nominal Vf. Having replaced that, SWR for the 2m yagi is flat across 144-146.

4 element 2m Yagi

As the HF bands drop off, I have decided it is time to up my portable capabilities on VHF. Having already tried out 6m with some enjoyable success, the option is to move to 2m or 70cm, the latter having shorter antennas but more critical dimensions, and the former being larger but more tolerant of poor construction (much like me).

The other requirement was for a short boom length, so 12 elements on 2m wasn’t going to fly. I went looking for designs and settled on a 4 element 28 ohm DK7ZB antenna, listed as very easy for beginners to build. I concur. The total length would be 76cm, and the widest element was 1030mm, which was roughly in the ball park of what I wanted (longest dimension 1m).

I ducked down to Bunnings, and grabbed some 10mm aluminium tube, and a 20mm square section aluminium boom. Had I still had my old car, I would have bought a 3m piece of 10mm tube plus another 1m section, but instead grabbed four 1m sections, as hacksawing the tube down in the car park to fit in the new car doesn’t quite gel with my style.

The dimensions for 10mm tubes are:

  • Reflector: 1030mm
  • Driven Element: 990mm
  • Director 1: 937mm
  • Director 2: 857mm

The elements were cut to length using a tube cutter, before a 30mm section was cut from the offcut of one of the directors, and stuck onto the reflector. To do so, I took an 8mm wooden dowel, chiselled it down to fit, and jammed it into the two pieces of tube so they wouldn’t move, then wrapped aluminium tape around the join for good measure.

A small addendum to the reflector, MacGuyver style

A small addendum to the reflector, MacGuyver style

Once the elements were cut to length, I used 3/8″ P-clips to attach the non-driven elements to the boom in the right locations. Two p-clips at each position, held in place with M4 bolts through the beam.

The driven element was marked in place using a 3-way junction box ($1.26 at Bunnings) and I used a 13mm barbed poly tube joiner to act as a spacer. I chose the Holman brand rather than the really cheap home brand version as it had a bit more clearance and the 10mm tube slid into it perfectly. I predrilled holes for screws to hold the elements in place, put in a BNC connector I had handy, and connected up the DK7ZB match.

The DK7ZB match is a parallel section of 75 ohm line to act as a 28-ohm to 50-ohm match. I used RG-59, again from Bunnings, at 70c for a single metre, cut to 42.5mm lengths (quarter-wave for 145MHz at a Vf of 0.82). Once I had everything in place, I fed through the driven elements and connected them to the other end of the match.

Gratuitously large amounts of silicone (and a wedge of paper) were used to hold the driven elements in the right place in the junction box. Saddle clips should probably have been used, but it is unlikely I’d break down and reassemble the driven elements on a summit anyway; I’d run out of saddle clips, and I had gratuitously large amounts of silicone handy at that point. This is a portable antenna, but not a bush-bashing one.

The DK7ZB match

The DK7ZB match

The junction box was attached in the right spot with two M4 bolts. The match points forward out the third hole in the junction box. It is held parallel with some heat shrink. The BNC connector is accessible from the rear of the antenna.

I connected up the antenna to test it out and SWR was fairly flat across the band – a little higher at the 146MHz end. My FT-857 is Japanese spec, so I can’t transmit outside of 144-146MHz without desoldering some links on the main board. I’d say it’s resonant around 144 MHz or perhaps a little below. SWR is barely noticeable on transmit between 144 and 145.

I intend to get out and test the antenna in the wild sometime over the next two weeks; keep an eye out for alerts.

The finished antenna - I will remove the section of boom at the front to shorten it.  Resting on two beehive supers - another hobby

The finished antenna – I will remove the section of boom at the front to shorten it. Resting on two beehive supers – another hobby

JMMFD Certificate

I came home the other day to discover a large manila envelope and inside was a certificate for finishing 13th in the John Moyle Memorial Field Day Single operator 6 hour division.

img_20160701_104556.jpg

As certificates were issued to all who went out portable for the weekend, this reminds me of the sort of “third best trier” encouragement award that seemed to be in vogue for a few years there during school, but one mustn’t be ungrateful 😀 A certificate is a certificate! Next year, I’ll aim to finish 12th!

HL/SL-006 – Guryongsan

Guryongsan was not a new summit for me, but it was for Andrew HL5ZBA, so we organised to meet up for hiking followed by beer. One of my ex-employees in Seoul, Hwanii, is still in regular contact with all of us, and hiking and beer is something he enjoys (more of the latter, I think), so he said he’d pick us up around 8am, ready for the climb.

Andrew and his wife Georgina were staying in Gangnam at a slightly less ostentatious hotel than mine, and after calling Hwanii to work out where he was (he’d fallen back asleep again), we finally got on the road about 8:30am.

Guryongsan is easily accessed from a number of points. It forms a summit pair with Daemosan, and, perhaps obviously, sits atop Guryongsan Tunnel. Looking at the tunnel heading south, there is access from the left by a shanty town, or from the right via a steeper set of steps. We took the shantytown option as I’d done that with Jason HL4ZFA last year and in theory should know where I was going.

In practice, I didn’t, but it doesn’t really matter. You are essentially climbing up to the saddle between Guryongsan and Daemosan and most roads in the shanty town lead there, and you keep walking until you hit the fenceline, which is a military area. Don’t go in there, but turn right and follow up to the top of the mountain. It’s signposted fairly clearly once you leave the shanty town and start climbing.

We reached the top around 30 minutes later, taking a few breathers along the way, and I was able to set up using a park bench and keeping the 40m dipole rolled up and only using the 20m links to tie off to trees. Again, I used the 4m shrinkenpole, and decided to keep this one primarily a CW activation.

A helipad atop the mountain, with Georgina and Andrew in the background.  There's too many trees for a helicopter to properly land.  I set up on the bench next to Georgina.

A helipad atop the mountain, with Georgina and Andrew in the background. There’s too many trees for a helicopter to properly land. I set up on the bench next to Georgina.

I started on 15m, and worked Rick VK4RF and John ZL1BYZ, before a summit to summit with JJ1SWI/1 on JA/TK-012, to complete the JA association for Mountain Hunter. A QRZ later, and all hell broke loose.

This was my first real CW pileup – basically just a constant tone as everyone tried to call in at once. I tried very hard to bring in Tony VK3CAT for a S2S, but he never quite picked up out of the noise to give me my signal report. From then on, I worked a fairly steady stream of chasers, finishing on 15m with a S2S with JF1NDT on JA/YN-012. 20m yielded one contact with Take JS1UEH out portable, before we decided to pack up, roughly an hour since my first contact. The entire hour was filled with many South Korean hikers peering over the top of me, with Hwanii acting as my marketing arm.

Andrew and I then proceeded up and down the mountain to work each other for SOTA Completes, but this rapidly turned into an exercise in diagnosing what was wrong with Andrew’s antenna, although we completed the contacts easily enough once he used the dodgy one. After a rapid descent, we found beer and fried chicken (and burgers), before dropping Andrew and Georgina off at the train station for their trip back to their home.

Thanks to Andrew, Georgina and Hwanii for another great SOTA day. Next time we go further out!

Seoul from Guryongsan.

Seoul from Guryongsan.