The SOTA Yahoo group had been alive for some weeks with posts from quite a few activators, suggesting that this would be a great weekend for lots of SOTA activations…a party! I thought to myself that it had been awhile since I had been out and that this weekend might be a good time to go out and while I was at it, I might as well camp overnight and knock over a couple of summits. With that in mind, I asked Jeff VK2XD if he might be interested again and he jumped at the chance, penciling it in on the home calendar.
The next decision was where to go. Many years ago, the Radio Club (WARC inc) used to regularly go to Mt Granite (or Granite Mountain) for the John Moyle Memorial Field Day – a radio contest where stations go out in the field and operate over a 24 hour period. Anyway, by 4WD it is relatively easy to get to and about 150km from home so I thought that would be a good place to go and it is possible to camp on the top. So, my plan was to head out on Saturday afternoon with the view of activating the summit at around 4.30pm so I could also take advantage of some European DX and perhaps some Summit to Summit activity with these stations. Then we would camp overnight and head down in the morning prior to the UTC day rollover and then drive on up to Pilot Reef Mountain, which I had never been to. I planned to activate it both sides of the UTC day and then have some lunch and head home. That was the plan!
As the time got closer, the weather reports started to make me nervous. Now the weather bureau (BOM) has been wrong before and so I hoped upon hope they may have got it wrong again. The forecast was for high winds and rain – up to 20mm in Wagga and widespread. This was initially forecast for Saturday during the morning but the closer to the day, the further this was put back. I thought that if it was really bad by the time I wanted to leave that I might just cut my losses and go up to Mt Flakeny about 12km from home for the night or if it was really bad, cancel it all together.
Now, Friday was a very hot and windy day with total fire bans and a request from RFS (Rural Fire Service) to stop harvesting. It was the sort of day that the smallest spark could have turned a lot of country black very quickly. In fact, as it turned out there was a major fire in our region that meant I was called out to RFS HQ in Fernleigh Rd for a stint manning the phones in the late afternoon. This could have potentially seen the cancellation of my trip on the following day but the good guys (and girls) with the trucks and fire hoses managed to have it under control in a few hours. As it was, that put paid to a Ham exam I was intending to assess, but that’s another story.
It was predicted that the weather change would start coming in late Friday and indeed it did with the temperatures dropping from the low 40Deg C mark to the mid 30’s in a matter of an hour or so in the early evening. Saturday dawned with an overcast morning but still relatively warm. It remained that way all throughout the day and as it looked like any rain would hold off until the evening, I decided to proceed with the main plan and picked up Jeff at about 1pm. The drive up was quite uneventful until we got into the Bago Forest proper. As we commenced the main descent we noticed the track was littered with horse manure and it wasn’t long before we saw some of the famed Tumbarumba brumbies. First we spied a lone horse followed soon after by about 6 of them grazing in the bush. Whilst they are feral animals, I dont sort of look on them like that, whereas wild pigs, goats, dogs and cats are definitely in the feral category. To me, it’s always great to see that sort of wildlife. Also managed to spy some of the really beautiful mountain parrots.
We soon arrived on the edge of the activation zone (within 25 vertical metres of the summit) at about 3.30 pm and it was here I told Jeff he could drive to the top and I would don my pack and walk up which I duly did. Whilst not far, the last part is quite steep but I felt the benefit of my weekly walking/jogging and wasn’t too puffed by the time I got to the top.
It was raining lightly on and off so we set to and erected the squid pole and radio and batteries ready to operate. The wind was absolutely howling and the temperature whilst cool, wasn’t too bad and had only forced me into a jumper and raincoat so far. During the past week in my spare time I had constructed a lightweight 1/2 wave 20m end fed vertical. I copied Phil Barnard VK7JJ’s antenna found here at http://www.perite.com/vk7jj/squidpoles.html. I used the light weight wire Peter VK3PF had sold me some time back and following the rest of the instructions managed something like Phil’s end product. Although, I still wasn’t totally happy with the SWR at 1:7:1 but it was better than nothing and if the worst came to the worst I could always put my tuner on it.
Now, erecting long, light weight fibre glass poles in high winds can be fraught with danger especially if one overloads the pole which I did by having both the helically wound vertical and my linked dipole and coax on there simultaneously. Next moment the whole thing came crashing down in the wind and the pole was now in 3 pieces. On to plan B and out with the ‘hundred mile an hour’ tape to fix the pole and to attach the link dipole. I scrapped the idea of the vertical and proceeded to activate the summit on 40 metres on the dipole where I made 31 contacts. Jeff logged for me and was extremely busy writing for the next 45 minutes. That’s how long it took to exhaust the number of 40metre chasers. We then dropped the antenna and tried 30metres without any luck and so I switched it over to 20metres.
This was a whole new ballgame for me. I mean I had worked a few EU(European) SOTA portable stations from my home station but working them from a portable location, running 20watts into just a dipole was quite different. The set up now consisted of the FT-817 plus a small after burner (amplifier) and small SLA battery where, by running the radio on 2.5 watts I could achieve approximately 20 watts output. My first contact was to a non SOTA station up in Queensland and he gave me a 5×7 which at least meant I was getting out. This was followed by Andrew VK1NAM for a Summit to Summit contact. Then I managed an Austrian home station, followed very quickly by another Austrian station but this time on a summit. Wow! I had been hoping to make one of these contacts and here it was. Next came a home station in Moscow who gave me a 5×6 and then things went a bit quiet. I checked my phone for service and was delighted that I had a bar or two so I tried the Rucksack Radio Tool app which lets you know what SOTA stations have been spotted. There I noticed Warren VK3BYD was activating on CW (Morse Code) and also on 20metres. I dragged my tiny key out and quickly gave him a call and despite him being quite weak, he heard me and we managed our contact. This was another first – I had never used CW on an activation before and as it turned out OK, I will definitely try that again. The activation finished with two more Summit to Summit contacts, one into the UK and another one into Austria. By now the rain was coming down hard and so I decided that enough was enough and we should retreat into the comfort of the Troopy and start thinking about tea.
After an enjoyable meal washed down with a very nice red, we settled into quite a few hands of four handed 500 designed to be played by two players. Many years back Jeff and I had done some bushwalking and this game was a great pastime then and I enjoyed it just as much now.
The wind and rain did not let up much all through the night and in the early morning it fairly pelted down. We were up around 7am and took stock of our situation. Outside it was blowing so hard the trees seemed to be more often at right angles to the ground than vertical. I was pleased the Squid pole had been put away for the night as I am sure it would not have been still up come morning. Further, we seemed enveloped in either cloud or fog and the temperature had plummeted to the point I now had my five layers of clothing back on. It was just like mid winter. Clearly, activating another hill was now out of the question and not only that, we might be still up on this hill until the track had dried out sufficiently to make it safe to descend. A slippery track could easily lead to the Troopy running off the track and and into the bush or worse, over the steep side – neither prospect really interested me, so we breakfasted and out came the cards again to fill in part of the morning. By mid morning the rain had eased but the wind hadn’t abated. This was probably a good thing as it would assist in drying the track or so we thought. Following morning tea at around 11 we decided to pack up and head down. I walked back down the track to see what condition it was in. In this part, most of the water had run off and despite the track having no maintenance for many a year there was a lot of evidence of the original road base. This gave me a bit more confidence at attempting the descent now instead of later. Despite my short walking trip I was still thinking the worst – fallen trees and boggy track.
Jeff had suggested dropping the tyre pressures down but I figured that should we encounter a really bad patch, then I would do that. I had planned on just letting the Troopy idle its way down hoping that any slippery patches could be managed at slow speed with the momentum of the truck and gravity pulling us through them. This proved fine and despite taking almost twice as long to come down as going up, we made it safely out onto the Eliott Way and then back to Tumbarumba. Yes, there were a number of very greasy patches but very judicious use of the throttle and gentle steering got us through safely. My fear of having to deal with fallen trees was unfounded as well and other than a small one we encountered on the way up there was nothing additional on the way down.
Lunch at the Bakery in Tumbarumba was very welcome. I can recommend their pies to any travellers and the coffee was also worth the wait and then we were on our way home. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage any photos on this trip as any time spent outside the tent was for antenna adjustments and installations – it was just too miserable to spend any more time out than necessary.
Another good activation although I do need to carry out some repairs to the Squid pole or purchase a new one. The Mountain Goat award is still a long way off as this activation brought me up to 46 points – only another 954 to go!
Not sure where my next little adventure will be but Long Plain is looking very inviting with the possibility of three summits within coo-ee of one another. 🙂