A few weeks back my friend Yern (Joergen) VK2KJJ gave me a small plastic bag with a handful of electronic bits in it. It was a Pixie. It seems in this case a Pixie isn’t a small mythical person but a 7Mhz tiny transceiver with which you use Morse Code to communicate. I think these units are Chinese clones of a similarly small unit made in the States 10 years or so back. Now in the big scheme of transceivers, this one is at the most basic end. No bells and no whistles. It runs off a 9v battery,requires headphones and as mentioned, a Morse Key…which is about 10 times heavier than the transceiver!
Yern suggested we see who can get on air first with them – he bought a few of them and has even purchased some spares! (We raffled one off at a Radio Club meeting and raised $30.) I like a challenge like this and as the next few days were to be cold and good for spending in the shack without feeling guilty then what better way to spend than heating up the soldering iron, building up a kit and getting it on the air.
It only took a few hours to complete and I plugged it in to my home antenna. For things to work first go for me is always a surprise and so I was suitably surprised and impressed when I could hear Morse Code coming through the headphones. Once the frequency was quiet I put out a call and back came Yern on the other side of town. I had been discussing the project on the local repeater with John VK2TH and he said he would take a listen for me so I put out a call. Further imagine my surprise, when back came Yern with a great signal. During the contact he congratulated me for getting on air first. My interest was now piqued. Could this little device be used to qualify a summit? In other words, could I take it out to a summit and make 4 contacts? I wanted to try.
I studied my map of Womargama national park and found there are two summits in the south western corner. They are the 5th and 3rd highest in the Riverina association and fortuitously are relatively easy to get to – well by 4WD anyway. Bernard VK2IB confirmed this and indeed he was the first to qualify these two summits. My mind was made up – these two I would try to do and soon.
I picked a day and asked Bernard if he wanted to join me but he declined as he wanted to do some other summits so he was a potential summit to summit contact. I asked Jeff VK2XD if he wanted to again join me and he jumped at the chance. I also again asked James VK2NKJ and he was also in but needed to be back in town by mid afternoon and so could do one summit.
The date was the 7th June. Winter had well and really set in and despite a nice but cold day in town by the time we got into the park we we were in fog. Of course we had to introduce James to the delights of the Holbrook bakery so we were again “coffee-d and caked” before heading out.
The drive through this part of the park was very pretty despite the fog and we were greeted at various times by wallabies bounding off either side of the track. Once at the top of the first summit which is not named and only known to us as VK2/RI-005 I quickly set up the station. Firstly, I put the Pixie on air but as expected there was quite a lot of Morse stations as there is a group that operate around that frequency every Sunday morning. So, sadly, I wasn’t going to qualify this summit with the Pixie. I put my trusty FT-817 on air and soon made the required contacts and handed the microphone to James for him to qualify the summit under his callsign. We finished up around 40 minutes later giving James enough time to head back to Wagga.
Jeff and I set off for Wagra Mountain (VK2/RI-003) the third highest summit in the Riverina association. It was pretty obvious no-one had been on the track for a long time as it was starting to get overgrown. I had forgotten to pack the chainsaw and was hoping upon hope there wasn’t any fallen trees. We did encounter a couple of small ones but nothing that even required stopping for. What we did find though was that the climb did require Low Range 4WD. This is quite a steep climb and I am sure the views would have been worthwhile but for the fog which didn’t lift all day. Wagra Mountain is the photo at the top of the page.We were pleasantly surprised that the summit opened out into a large clearing – large enough to turn the Troopy around. I only mention that in passing to give you an idea as to how big the clearing is as the Troopy’s turning circle is more akin to turning the Queen Mary around. So, plenty of room at the top.
I set the antenna up using the squidpole as hanging it from a tree would have been difficult if I wanted to operate in the open. Before I got the Pixie out I checked for phone service and finding it adequate I sent a spot out to SOTA Watch indicating we were ready to operate and that I would be using Morse. I thought it best to do this to ensure someone was listening for my piddly little signal.
Turned the gear on and sent out my first call. Moments later, Michael VK2CCW answered me. Michael is on the central coast near Budgewoi, a mere 480km! Wow! Next contact was with Alan VK7BO – even further at around 600km! Double Wow! I think I was shaking – I couldn’t believe that this $6 transceiver was performing so well. I went on to make another 4 contacts including Bernard on his summit, Allen VK3HRA near Ballarat, Warren VK3BYD in Wangaratta and Garry VK2GAZ up in Richmond all giving me great signal reports. That exhausted the supply of Morse stations. Now it was out with the FT-817 and a change of mode and frequency and I completed the summit making 33 contacts in all including one to Slovenia on 14Mhz. Yes that’s right Slovenia…in Europe. I am just amazed at how far one can operate on quite low power let alone flea power from the Pixie.
We headed off making a mental note to remind James that he missed the best part of the trip. James likes “off roading” and I am sure he hardly got into 4WD on the first part of the trip. After today, I am sure he will be wanting to get out and activate some summits himself.
More wallabies on the way back and this time we made it back into Wagga before dark.
Where to now? Well, I have had all sorts of thoughts on improvements to the Pixie. The first one I have already completed. The unit needed a box and I needed to ditch the traditional key – its just too heavy. So I went looking for a suitable circuit that would allow me to hear what I am sending – which the Pixie doesn’t do. The picture shows the result. But wait, there’s more. I ordered a second Pixie. Yes I let my head go and spent another $6. This time I want to see if I can make the Pixie change frequency and also be able to hear my sending. I think I can get all this into a small box as well. It should also be possible to carry a complete station in a couple of pockets and head off to a summit and activate it. This is minimalist SOTA and the thought really appeals to me.