SOTA party – 15th and 16th November 2014

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. 🙂

John VK2YW

Mt Burngoogee – Saturday 6th September 2014.

It’s been twelve months now since Summits on the Air (SOTA) kicked off in NSW. To celebrate the anniversary quite a few stations decided to go forth and operate – me being one of them. Initially, I asked Jeff VK2XD to accompany me and he was up for the outing but it would depend on whether his cold improved. It didn’t and he rang early Saturday morning to cancel. That left me with two options – either find someone else silly enough to go climbing hills or go by myself. The latter really shouldn’t be an option from a safety point of view and so I rang Bob VK2VKV at short notice. He was up for it but would confirm at smoko down at the radio clubrooms in a few hours. I left it at that and loaded my pack into the car and set off for the clubrooms. The weather was just perfect – a beautiful spring day. I hoped it would indeed be as good as this on Burngoogee.

Now, I must confess that where I thought Mt. Burngoogee was, it wasn’t. I thought Burngoogee was further to the south east from where it actually is. You see, there are two similar size hilltops within a couple of ‘k’ from one another and BOTH have large towers on them. But, P1000944 P1000947 P1000942 P1000938Burngoogee also has the Fire Tower on it that featured heavily in this year’s very large bushfire. So, it pays never to assume and always do your homework before heading out on these sorts of trips. I usually plot my track at home on Ozi Explorer and then upload it to the GPS for use on the day.

Well, as it turned out, Bob was available and decided it would be a great chance to test his portable setup consisting of Buddipole vertical and FT-817 radio. So after a cuppa at the clubrooms we set off – me with lunch all in my backpack and Bob with a small pack, a Pelican case and his Buddipole gear. I think next activation he might have made up kit in one bag only. Certainly make for easier traveling.

The entry, just off the Tumbarumba Road, takes you past the Vietnam Vet’s retreat. Its not really 4WD unless its wet but if you are doing the trip in an ordinary car, it is a dirt road so do take it easy and of course keep an eye for wildlife of the hopping variety as they can do a lot of damage if you hit one. A couple of ‘k’ in there is a turn off to the right and it is marked with a sign indicating Burngoogee Fire Tower. I think its actually called Firetower Road. From here it starts to climb fairly rapidly and has a few man-made contours inserted into the road. I think they must have been old conveyor belts and when I first spied them I wasnt sure they werent made of metal and I even got out to make sure they were rubber.

Once on top of the ridge and in sight of the tower you come to a gate with the usual proliferation of linked padlocks. There are no signs saying keep out or ‘Trespassers will be shot’ or words to that effect so we hopped over the gate and set off. The walk quickly gets quite steep and I was soon blowing quite hard but soon we were within a stone’s throw of the summit. The walk from the gate to the top is about 1.8km. I checked the GPS just to be sure that where we picked was in the Activation Zone (within 25 vertical metres of the summit) which we certainly were.

Bob set about setting up his little vertical while I laid out the linked dipole and got the squid pole in position. It must have been a few months since I set all this up because I had erected the whole thing and then realised I didnt have the coax connected so back to the ground. Radios work much better when there is more than air connecting them to the antenna! Anyway, soon had that sorted and I was soon on air and making the first of my 7 Summit to Summit contacts. I went on to make 23 contacts in total and all but one on 40metres. The only other contact was with a VK3IJB/m who was mobile up on Fraser Island. For his 100watts to the mobile antenna I gave him a 5×8 and for my piddly 2.5watts into the dipole he gave me 5×5 so I was quite happy the setup was working.

In the meantime Bob made a couple of contacts to test his little setup and whilst he was certainly getting out on the vertical, he couldnt match the signal reports I was getting. The theory is is that more is better. More wire that is. I suspect though, that his antenna would come into its own for overseas contacts, especially up on 20 metres. We must try that out one evening.

After a spot of lunch we went exploring and wandered up to the Fire tower which of course is locked. Pretty impressive views from up there…I think that’s part of the appeal, well for me anyway, the views. You could even see significant amounts of snow up on the high country to the east.

With the exploring and photos out of the road we packed up and headed back to the car. When we got there we noticed some off road bike guys wandering around. I gave them a wave and they waved back. Next minute they were on the other side of the gate! We headed off but before getting back onto the main track I thought I would just follow this faint track that was heading down the hill and running parallel with the fence. 50 or 60 metres along, the question of how the riders made it onto the other side of the fence became apparent – someone had knocked the fence over and so they had simply ridden across. The break in the fence is not visible from the gate and it looked to me it been down for many months if not years. Having found that we turned back and headed off home.

The gear worked well, the walk didnt hurt me …well other than a few stiff joints the next day. It would seem that all my walking is done in relatively flat country so those muscles don’t get any work outs. All in all, another great activation.

John VK2YW

 

 

Mt Jingellic VK2/RI-001

This was one hill I wanted to do! I think it was because it is the number one summit in the Riverina and to some extent it was shrouded in some, well …not mystery so much as not having any up to date information. My maps do not show any track up there what so ever but in speaking to various people it seemed there was a track up there but don’t bother if it has rained recently and it is a very interesting track and not for the faint hearted. Anyway, I saw a window of opportunity for Sunday December 1st and put out some feelers to see if anyone else was interested. As it turned out Bernard VK2IB was free and also itching to have a crack at it as he was turned back some months ago by a very slippery track.

Now, I had never met Bernard; we had only ever emailed one another so we planned to meet over coffee at Holbrook on the Sunday morning and then head off to attempt the summit. For coffee in Holbrook there are a number of options but mostly for me its at the Bakery in the middle of town but unbeknownst to me the Bakery has an outlet on the southern end of town just near where the Hume bypasses the town and it was here we decided to meet. First impressions are always good I think and given our common interests we seemed to hit it off from the start and were soon discussing tactics for the ascent, along with coffee.

About forty minutes later we set off in our separate vehicles – he in the unbreakable Hi-lux and me in the Troopy. I was convinced we could do little wrong with two Toyotas. 🙂 I had been told to look out for a new track to the top and so all the way down Millers Firetrail I kept my eyes out but to no avail and so we made it down to the beginning of the Jingellic Trig road with little problem. There was the odd pull up to remove fallen timber (being behind I did very little) and we did notice there had been little traffic down it. Now if you decide to walk to the summit then the beginning of the Trig track is where you might start because it is very steep from here on so if you are in anything else other than a decent 4WD this is where you start walking. I stayed in 4WD 2nd gear Lo Range all the way up. The first corner is a doozie – the Troopy took three bites at it to get around. There was a lot more fallen timber on the track but nothing that required a chainsaw although we were both carrying them in case.

Jingellic_8

1/2 size G5 straining the Squid pole

We got to the top at around 12.30pm AEDST. Once up there we had a bit of a look around for possible sites for the gear and once selected set about erecting our respective stations. One of the reasons for setting up two was to be able to do some comparisons of antennas as Bernard was using a linked dipole and I a1/2 size G5 or as it seems to be better known now –  a doublet. Although interestingly …a doublet I discover is just a fancy name for a dipole (See Photo 2 in AR for December in the SOTA article – that’s my antenna as erected on Wheel of Fortune some weeks back)

Jingellic_10

VK2YW operating position

Bernard erected his dipole with the centre at about 6 metres whilst my ‘doublet’ was at around 8m and at right angles to him. I suggested he go first to activate the summit which he did and I then went on to activate it using his gear. Once we had exhausted chasers we knocked off for lunch and re-commenced from my station on 20 metres. I could only raise Paul VK5PAS who was easily 5×9  to me but he was the only station we could muster so we went back to 40 metres to do the comparisons.

From the comments it seems the ‘doublet’ is as good as the linked dipole but seems to suffer from some fast fading although not in all directions. I am not sure really what to make of the results as they were fairly subjective but the fast fade was consistent with other reports I have received in the past for this antenna. None the less, I will be keeping the configuration as the ease of operation all the way up to 10 metres is just great. I may go a step further yet and make a modified version of the G5 to see if I can eliminate the tuner. More on that at a later date.

Just after 3pm we decided to call it quits and head back to Holbrook for coffee and then off home. We set off back down and noticed a track running off to the left a few hundred metres down. This track was marked as Mt Paynter Firetrail and so we decided to investigate it to see if it was the new track. Again, there was little sign of use but we didn’t encounter any fallen timber. In fact this track is much shorter and although still very steep in places it seems to be a better track. When we came out at Millers though we noticed a sign indicating that it was for authorised vehicles only – we both wondered why as there was nothing secret along it and it was certainly both shorter and generally in better condition. Ahh…you have to love the NPWS 🙂 . It would though be a much better walking track and if you are contemplating this summit and you are going to walk it then this is the place to start.

Back at Holbrook around 5pm we discovered that the Bakery at the southern end of Holbrook closes before 5pm so we said our farewells here and set of in opposite directions – Bernard to Albury and me to Wagga.

All in all a great day’s outing – good coffee, good company, great 4Wd run and radio – what more could you ask for?

Mt Tumorrama Today

Another of my interests (and has been since the mid 1970’s) is volunteering for Comms at car rallies. These are the type of car rallies that are generally conducted on dirt roads in pine forests and where there is a need for a navigator wearing a helmet resplendent with intercom which he uses to yell at a similarly dressed driver what the next few hundred metres has in store for them as they drive at break neck speeds such that us ordinary folk would only dream of driving on tarred roads which are dead straight and more akin to an Airbus runway. How some of them manage to make it out alive beats me but it is a very exciting spectator sport. My interest comes watching them either starting or finishing or flying past and then relaying that information back to HQ via ham radio. These spots are generally at least as exciting as the designated spectator points with the added bonus that you are up close and personal with the cars, drivers and navigators. I have had the honour of seeing some of the Australia’s best rally drivers and their cars from these very spots – people including the late but great Possum Bourne.

By having radio communication at the starts and finishes as well as SOS points along the way it provides a great safety aspect as often there is little or no phone coverage in these forests. With our input the rally organisers know where each car is or at least should be at any point in time and can of course score the cars the moment they arrive at the end but more importantly quickly do something about it if a car fails to show up at a particular point. Sadly, the car club in Wagga no longer seems to conduct them and one has to go to Canberra if one wishes to follow this pursuit further and I do from time to time. I like to think that as a bit of a compromise seemingly for me at least, the Brindabella Motor Sports Club has seen fit to conduct a rally up in Bondo State Forest off the Tumut – Canberra road for the last two years so it is quite close to us here in Wagga. It probably has more to do with  a great venue rather than a favour to me though. Last year it clashed with something else and I couldn’t attend. It’s also a bit of a money spinner for our radio club as the Canberra guys share their donation with us.

Now, the comms infrastructure for the event just happens to be on Mt Tumorrama and that, as it turns out, is a SOTA summit and I knew if I played my cards properly I could kill two birds with one stone. (I suppose you were wondering when SOTA was going to get a mention.) As it worked out I was able to help Rod VK2TRB and the Canberra WICEN boys erect the antennas on the fire tower on the Friday and fortuitously just managed to sneak off in a quiet moment to recce the summit for a suitable operating spot in the activation zone but well away from the tower.

Mt Tumorrama is an 8 pointer for SOTA and it rises up out on the western edges of the Brindabella ranges to a height of some 1200m ASL.

Mt Tumorrama

Mt Tumorrama

The views from there are something else – especially at sunset. The dust from the rally could be seen also hanging in the air along the tracks like a long brown snake and from up there looked really interesting. Did I mention I like the views from the tops of these hills?

Now, I was last up here operating a John Moyle Field Day contest with the Wagga radio club back in the 1970s and the top of the hill was bare. I remember some of the then elders of our club complaining there was nothing to string HF antennas from and they didn’t want to come back here. Scroll down 35 years or so and its hard to recognise the same hill top. It is now quite thickly vegetated with some reasonable sized eucalypts, bracken and of course the mandatory blackberry (the bush – not the phone.)

Sunset on Mt Tumorrama

Sunset on Mt Tumorrama

Mt Tumorrama C 1970s

Mt Tumorrama C 1970s

Earlier in the week I wondered whether my middle grandson, John (9 – he says he’s nearly 10) might enjoy the outing. His older brother certainly did at the same age and encouraged him to go. As it turned out he was quite excited by the prospect although I am sure he really had no concept of what actually lay ahead. Even seeing Mt Tumorrama off in the distance excited him …he’d never seen a hill quite that big before.

I figured a 90 minute SOTA activation would be plenty and timed our arrival for about 10am. I parked just short of the summit and we set off down toward the northern end – me loaded down with the pack and squid pole while John loaded himself down with my Samsung 10 inch tablet (for spotting) :). He did start off carrying the squid pole but as it is almost as high as him it kept dragging on the ground so I ended up carrying it. OK, so when he’s bigger I will give him something more to carry.

I found a suitable clearing and we set up.

2YW & 2TRB pose for SOTA activation shot

2YW & 2TRB pose for SOTA activation shot

First thing I found was there was no 3G coverage so spotting would have to come from someone else. Anyway, John and I soon had the station set up and put out the first call and then listened…and listened. Nothing! I tuned around and could just faintly hear Craig VK2PAW/p on HU-080 up in the Hunter region somewhere. At least I might get a summit to summit. We exchanged a 5×1 each and then that was it until I managed to work Matt VK1MA/p nearly 25 minutes later. In the meantime I even tried 30metres without success. Matt was 5×9 but then so he should have been – he was portable down at Rally HQ at the bottom of the hill!

By now Rod VK2TRB had come for a run up to see what this SOTA stuff was all about and after pottering around on the hill for awhile he finally found us. I think he came away amazed at how simple the set up was…pity conditions weren’t better…if they were I am sure he would have been more impressed. Perhaps he will join me again for another activation …perhaps that Mt Jingellic summit eh Rod?  By now I was starting to get a bit concerned that I might not even get the activation points. You need 4 contacts for that. Conditions on 40 were lousy to say the least. I could only hear a few very weak stations.  It wasn’t until after the UTC rollover that my next contact came and that was a very weak contact into Tony VK3CTM down Melbourne way who was also having trouble working another VK3 SOTA station so at least it wasn’t just me or my gear. I managed to break in to Tony’s QSO telling him the other station was hearing him but just needed the signal report. Not sure they completed the contact in the end but at least I got my signal report from him. I managed another 4 contacts and they came quite quickly but not until after a further 20 minutes had elapsed …and by now I was fast running out of time. I really needed to get off the hill and down to the meet point for the rally. Those next few contacts were from Matt VK1MA/p again down at the rally followed by Glenn VK3YY, Matt VK2DAG and Ed (VK2JI) operating his club station of VK2AFY. He offered to spot me but by then we really needed to pack up and head off so I declined. Rod helped us pack up the station up and we set off. Given the time span and the seven contacts made I don’t think young John was totally impressed with this SOTA thing. I hoped the next part of the day would be more to his liking.

Well, I am happy to report that he was blown away by this car rally stuff, especially when the first car, a 5 litre V8 Commodore showered us in stones and dust as it thundered off down the track from the start position. You couldn’t wipe the grin off his face! That set the scene for him for the next  hour or so. He happily settled in and between snacks wrote the car number and start time down for me while I radioed the info back to HQ.. I told him that what he was doing was called logging. He also had lessons in UTC and 24 hour time or ‘hundred hour’ time as one of the marshalls called it.  Our start marshalls were also most entertaining – two ‘local boys’ from in and around the area. Reminded me a bit of the Doon boys from Tumut years ago….if you know the area, you will understand what I mean. Anyway they spoilt John a bit giving him food snacks and drinks…not that I didn’t have much for him to eat and drink 🙂 …he managed to polish off quite a lot that afternoon and certainly didn’t go hungry. They even engaged him in a stone throwing competition after our first stage was finished. It was an interesting afternoon to say the least.

We had been given two stages to do – the 4th and the 7th, all from the one spot. During the 5th stage however, one of the support crews for a car that had either crashed or broken down – not sure which, decided they need to recover their car. Now that’s quite OK normally but NOT during a live stage! Consequently the Rally organisers had to stop the stage – no more cars in until it was cleared and that meant re-running the 0 car back through the stage again to check it was clear.  And further, they decided that as this little hiccup would force the rally back by around 30 minutes it would make our 7th stage finish in the dark and as this was a daytime only rally they cancelled our last stage. We were free to go and as it was still early so I decided to again head back up the mountain to help Rod and the others with the removal of the antennas once stage 6 was completed. On the way back up John was very excited to see a wombat who even stopped long enough to pose for a photo

Camera shy Wombat

Camera shy Wombat

or perhaps he was looking for his hole as just as I was taking it he put his head down and disappeared down a hole on the edge of the road. Mind you, I too was excited but that had more to do with the wombat staying out of the path of the car. Following this bit of excitement young John started to pester me to climb the fire tower as it now come into view. Now, I can’t say I was exactly excited by this prospect but I gave in on the proviso he promised to stay just above me as we climbed up and down. The fire tower is about 20 something metres high with a rickety folding 3m aluminium ladder that’s normally locked at the bottom that leads into a caged set of steps going straight up. At the top is a walkway enclosed with netting to waist height all the way around a glass and fiberglass room from which a fire spotter sits for hours on end looking out for smoke and calling back the direction and distance for Forestry and or RFS to take care of.

P1000814

Rod and John at top of Firetower

True to his promise John climbed just above me where, if he did fall, I could hopefully catch him …he never missed a step! Once up there he explored the fire control room deciding that the millions of dead lady beetles covering everything was not somewhere he liked being so he elected to stay outside on the walkway in the wind … at least long enough for a photo opportunity. However, as he soon discovered, the tower moves in high wind and it was really blowing a gale. So with discretion being the better part of valor he thought the ground might be a safer option in the long run and so off we went down, climbing the same way we came up, with me immediately below him.

The day finished quite late for him (and me for that matter – not as young as I used to be 🙂 )but to his credit he stayed awake all the way home. Mind you, a big feed at Maccas in Tumut at around 8.30pm probably helped. Anyway we got back home just after 10pm that night. A great day and many thanks to the guys who made contact me with in the morning and allowed me to claim the points for the SOTA activation.

Might be a few more weeks to my next activation – I still have in mind that Mt Jingellic though.

SOTA and Rally goat – John VK2YW

Mt Bethungra VK2/RI-014

I have now visited Mt Bethungra about six times now with the last five being by 4wd vehicle. The first time I was silly enough to walk it with a couple of others, a repeater, antenna and car battery in tow. Now if you have passed Mt Bethungra – its off to the right just as you cross the railway line between Bethungra village and Cootamundra on the Olympic way, you will realise it is a very large and steep hill. That was back in the 1980’s when I was young and a lot fitter than I am today. As I remember it, it was cold, wet and foggy. Why did we do it? We were testing Mt Bethungra as a site for the then South West Amateur Radio Society. The Society is now defunct and move forward thirty years and Wagga Amateur Radio Club now has the site as home to VK2RBE – a solar operated repeater site linked to 5 others covering the greater part of the Riverina. You can now drive to the top but its a low range 4WD trip up a rocky and sometimes slippery track. Not to be attempted after rain. But its a trip I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to doing – anytime. I might add its on private property and access can only be got by phoning the owner.

Mt Bethungra is a SOTA summit and is worth 4 activator points. I had an ulterior motive for wanting to do the trip and even did it mid week when the likelihood of Summit to Summit activations were unlikely and that was to check on the work Mike VK2DAI and myself did in resurrecting the batteries at the site some six months previous. For this activation Jeff VK2XD again accompanied me and was both my log keeper and official photographer. Actually, I lie – it was to activate the summit first and foremost, the checking of the batteries was secondary. 🙂

I picked Jeff up at around 8.40 on Wednesday 23rd October – a day where the Blue Mountains were slowly turning black and where they were they were expecting high winds and even higher temperatures whilst out here on the edge of the southern tablelands we were expecting rain and overcast and cool conditions. Perfect weather for doing this sort of thing. In fact we got no rain but it was relatively cool and overcast. In Melbourne on the other hand it was raining and cold. We live in a country full of extremes!

When we arrived at the gate into the property there was a guy in front of us going in who turned out to be a surveyor for ARTC and was about to go looking for old survey pegs as the road was being widened in the area of the railway crossing just down the road and so we helped him access the lock and he went on his way and we went ours – up. As I said, I love the climb and the Troopy didn’t disappoint me as it crawled up in 2nd gear low range doing a mere 1400 RPM. It takes about 15 minutes to do the drive and like many of the summits the view is terrific. I parked a short distance from the towers and we loaded up and set off northwards along the ridge. Saw a few roos disappearing down the side of the ridge line but didnt see any other wildlife after that. I have often seen goats up here but none today.

We set up a couple of hundred metres from the car in a bit of a clearing and using a rock for the operating table got stuck into it. You may remember I had misgivings about my little home made antenna tuner. Well, since Wheel of Fortune I had a little time to further investigate and found the main problem. However, I also found that despite fixing it the match to the antenna still left a bit to be desired. Jeff VK2XD came to the party with a small commercial unit for me to try and boy did that work well in the back yard. So I set about connecting it up, hoping to repeat the performance. Imagine my horror when I discovered that the short interconnecting coax cable was missing from my bag. Hell, without it we weren’t going to get on air. I found that problem right after I self spotted on the SOTA website saying I was almost operational. (I use the Rucksack Radio Tool App for this) I mean I couldn’t even use a bit of fencing wire to fix this problem! OK, so, did I have a spare back int he vehicle? I hoped so and set off to see. About ten minutes later I was back with the required cable – phew! that was a relief. It would have been a very embarrassing moment if we had to leave without at least fulfilling one of the goals – the main one! Note to self – Use a checklist the night before and put the spare back in the car.

Finally at about 10.30 am (2333 UTC) I put out the first call and Ed VK2JI on the central coast boomed back in to me with a 5×8 signal. From then on and through the next 16 contacts I knew the tuner and antenna combination were working a treat. A quite memorable contact was down to Perrin VK3XPT who was portable in his backyard in Melbourne running on a portable magnetic loop. I have worked Perrin before from home using a digital mode on 2M from home (WSPR) and have heard him running 20mW so it was great to work him again using flea power on HF and I even managed to work Paul VK5PAS just outside Adelaide – a distance of nearly 800km, all on just 5Watts of power. I told Paul I hadn’t seen any signs of wombat poo on the rocks up here. He was quite intrigued by that observation which I made and told him about during a contact with him on a SOTA activation earlier in the year and we often laugh about it now. He had seen plenty of wombats but no poo on rocks. If you don’t believe they do poo on rocks, check out anywhere in Womargama Nat Park and its also common right throughout Kosciusko Nat Park. But I digress.

After waiting for the UTC day rollover at 11am I then went on and worked some of the same guys again as they get double chaser points and when I had exhausted them it was time to try some higher bands to see what else was on offer. I quickly tuned up to 10.135 Mhz and put out a call and was immediately rewarded with better signal reports from Ed VK2JI, Perrin VK3XPT and Bernard VK3AMB. After again exhausting contacts here I changed up to 14Mz without success noting that VK6MB was listening for me. That would have been fun …flea power into Western Australia. Finally, there is a challenge on making contacts on 24Mhz so we switched up there and put out some calls but without success. So at about 11.20 we packed up and headed back to the car and then drove up to VK2RBE to check on the batteries. It was very gratifying to see that the batteries were in exactly the condition we left them in six months before so it looks like we may have fixed THAT problem. Footnote – Mike VK6MB did hear me faintly on 24Mhz but no contact.

Then it was back down the hill. Did I mention I like this drive? The troopy just slowly picked its way down the hill in 2nd and 1st low range. One of the nice things about Bethungra village is the Old School House coffee shop. I can thoroughly recommend it for its coffee, food and delightful owners. So, (plug, plug) if you are planning a run up the Olympic way time it to drop in here, you wont be disappointed.

OK, now I am happy with the portable setup but will re-visit my little tuner now I know I can get the antenna to match very well. In fact it seems to match every band from 40m and up.

Not sure of my next summit but I am thinking Mt Burngoogee which could also end up being a full day and maybe into the evening but thats for another story.

Below are a couple of pictures – in the second one you can just see the Mt Ulandra TV tower in the background. Image

Image

To Find Wheel? Fortune

Hmmm – OK so its a play on words and no, I didn’t find my real (Wheel) fortune but had fun anyway.

The 13th of October was truly a lovely day and certainly too good to be inside so I packed my trusty back pack (well …it was mostly packed the night before) and set off to a hilltop (summit) near Wagga Wagga known to as Wheel Of Fortune (WOF). I have no idea where the name comes from but if you travel from Wagga to Oura you will see Wheel of Fortune Rd running off to the left. Unfortunately, you cant get to the summit along that road but have to go a somewhat longer route to the north and then swing back south once on the ridge. I have no doubt that with permission you probably could go up that road. Anyway, access is via a lane off Pattersons Road that does a steady climb up to the ridge that WOF is on. This ridge extends roughly north from the river for some 20 odd kilometres toward Junee so unless you know where to look its just another line of hills that make up the Murrumbidge river valley. In January it became known in the news as the Valema fire near Oura when a lot of the southern ridge was burnt almost down to Oura village.

The view from here is something else. I could easily pick out Mt Galore, Mt Flakney, probably Mt Burngoogee but it was a bit hazy that way, Mt Bethungra and Mt Ulandra in a nearly 300 degree arc and whilst the distance was a little hazy it was well worth the drive up just for the view. The site is home to a number of radio transmitters including Wagga’s 93 FM which sits atop a 300 foot tower.

I parked the truck near the 93 FM building which also houses our own VK2RWG repeater and which our club also looks after the grounds and was therefore another reason for visiting – to see the state of the grounds. And yes they would require another working bee to clean them up but that would be another day. I loaded my pack onto my back, grabbed the squid pole (portable mast) and hiking /walking pole and set off. I wanted to get as far as I could along the ridge to distance myself from the 10Kwatt Transmitter because even though it was 86Mhz above my operating frequency I just new I would cop some interference and I wasn’t wrong! I even had to relocate my wire part way through the morning to put it end on to the 93 FM tower to minimise the interference. Next time I will set up just below the ridge line but still within the 25 vertical metre SOTA activation zone.

After erecting the squid pole and 1/2 size G5 antenna and homebrew antenna tuner I fired up the little 5W transceiver (FT-817) and put out a call. Instantly I was rewarded with Ian VK3DET about 30km south of Ballarat. He was the first of 19 contacts I made that morning including 6 summit to summit contacts. Contacts were had into Canberra, across NSW and down into Vic as far as Melbourne.

By now I have had the experience of three separate summit activations using the same equipment, namely Yaesu FT-817 transceiver, 1/2 size G5RV antenna on a 9m squid pole with open wire line all the way to my little home made antenna coupler. But the operation of the tuner just didn’t seem quite right. Yes, granted I was making contacts but people were struggling to hear me. I just knew it should be better and was determined to look further into it to see if I could get to the bottom of the nagging feeling I had that everything in the garden was not quite rosy. Note to self for next week to investigate.

Where to next? Well this was an easy summit no doubt about it  but it was only worth one point. It was however great to earn the summit to summit points so my haul for today was 1 activator point and 49 summit to summit points so a tidy and worthwhile point score. My next foray will be to Mt Bethungra. Thats the hilltop you pass on the left hand side when you head up the Olympic Way and cross the railway line between Bethungra and Cootamundra. Mt Ulandra, another designated summit is off to the right butis full of TV and radio Transmitters …not sure I will have a go at that one as the interference will be heavy and access might be difficult!

There was one interesting fact on this activation and that was that I actually commenced the activation on Saturday Universal Time Co-ordinated (UTC) and continued through to the Sunday UTC. Now, so what I hear you say? Well for an activator, you can only activate a summit once per UTC calendar year but as a Chaser you can work a summit and get points every UTC day. But to log it on the website that way means you have to log it twice, once for each UTC day. Anyway, I didn’t and was soon receiving emails asking me to re-log because the chasers weren’t able to confirm their contacts with me because they were all logged on the Saturday UTC and they worked me on the Sunday UTC. So back on the website, delete the initial log and re-enter it as two activations ..of which I can only claim one lot of points. Next time I will do it as two logs up front and no hassle. Just a good thing there were only nineteen. UTC by the way is very handy when dealing with international timezones. You dont have to worry about what time it is in outer Botswana as long as everyone works in UTC it’s simple.

Looking toward The Rock

Looking toward The Rock

My Squid pole (9m) and 93 FM (100m)

My Squid pole (9m) and 93 FM (100m)

Here is my view toward The Rock and below is the more important view of the 1/2 size G5 erected on the 9m Squidpole with 93FM in background.