DX on 1.5W from a SOTA summit

Who said life is too short for QRP? Not true. Let me explain …

Andrew (VK1AD who used to be VK1NAM) and I activated Mt Goorooyarro (yes, say that with your teeth out!) which lies on Canberra’s border with New South Wales the other evening and it was up there that I made my first real DX contact with my Elecraft KX1.

But let me start at the beginning and save the juicy bits for later.

Mt Goorooyarro (VK1/AC-036) has an altitude of 872m and comes with only one SOTA activator’s point as a result. But don’t let this minimal number fool you; it lies on private property behind a locked gate with a sign warning visitors to keep out as there are unexploded ordinances there. This area, you see, used to be a military firing range and even today it borders on a range that is still in use by the military.

We had permission as long as we kept to the track to the top. So we parked the car on the dirt road near the gate, hoisted our backpacks on and made for the gate.

It was an easy matter to climb over, but not so easy to keep our eyes from that warning sign.


That sign! Scaling the gate backwards was the way to go.

The walk up to the summit took about 45 minutes with the going ranging from easy to pantingly tough. But we did pass some interesting sights.


We did wonder how these old cars got there.


Andrew with one of the many ant hills we encountered.

Once on the summit, we set up our stations and set to work.

Now for that juicy bit I alluded to earlier.

I heard Bernard, F9IE calling on 14.028 CW and as no one responded, I did. And he answered! We had a lovely, longish QSO, which was my first SOTA DX contact. My station consisted of the Elecraft KX1 putting out 1.5W and a Buddistick vertical antenna. Then I worked a JA station (JL1MUT) but conditions were noisy at his end.

That got me thinking about the magic of QRP. Think of it this way: if 100W gets you a S9 reading on someone’s S-meter, what will that same meter read you if you were, like me, putting out a meagre 1.5W?

Here’s the thing: it takes four time the power to move the S-meter one S unit. So going the other way, it takes a signal four times as weak to move the S-meter one S unit down.

So if 100W registers an S9, 25W will register S8, 6W will register S7 and 1.5W will register S6. Remember, we are reducing power by a magnitude of four each time.

So is life really too short for QRP?


Activating Mt Coree, VK1/AC-023

One of the things I like most about the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) is that it is bounded by no less than 48 summits that are all within easy reach. Note I said easy reach, meaning that they are not too far away from the city and not that they are easy to climb or to reach the summit.

Sunday morning 1 November was the day Tony VK1VIC and I decided to activate Mt Coree, a 4-pointer summit that straddles the ACT/NSW border.

This plaque let us know the significance of these summits.

This plaque let us know the significance of these summits.

Two things I found attractive about this summit; one was the fact that it is worth 4 points, the other is that it is accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicle all the way to the top.

Tony picked me up at 0840 and I packed my gear into his Holden Colorado 4×4. Because I wasn’t going to be doing a great deal of walking, weight wasn’t going to be a major factor on this activation. This meant I could take my Yaesu FT-817 (for voice work) as well as my Elecraft KX1 (for CW). My antenna was, as usual, my trusty Buddistick vertical.

The weather forecast was for showers and a possible thunderstorm, so we were hoping for the best as we headed out of the city towards the mountains. It is this unpredictability that I find so attractive with SOTA: you never quite know what you are going to get.

Once we left the bitumen the going got rapidly more interesting. The first few kilometers were on excellent gravel roads that had obviously been well cared for. Then as we got closer to Mt Coree, the going got decidedly rougher. I could see the necessity for a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Hitting the dirt.

Hitting the dirt.

This was going to be interesting, I could tell.  Signs tell a lot.

Cliffs and mist ...

Cliffs and mist …

 The weather closed in even before we reached the summit.

Looking mystical ...

Looking mystical …

Dense cloud cover engulfed us, making it all but impossible to locate a good spot to erect my antenna. Then the wind picked up, reaching near gale-force strength I’m sure. I like to set up my station near some rocks that I can use for sitting on; I located something suitable very close to the trig beacon and lookout tower. I erected the Buddistick, ran the counterpoise and connected up the KX1. It tuned up beautifully, the readout telling me I had an SWR of 1:1.

Time for my fist call. For this, I chose 2m FM with my Yaesu FT-250 hand held as Andrew, VK1NAM, I knew, was waiting up Mt Stromlo ready for a summit-to-summit contact.  That done, it was time to concentrate on 40m. Keen to achieve activation at the very least, I decided to switch to the FT-817 and SSB. Contacts with VK7CW and VK1DI quickly followed. Then it was time to switch to the KX1 and CW. Even though I only had 1 watt at my disposal (power was being supplied by six AA cells) I made contact with VK2UH, VK7CW (again) and VK2IO.

By now we were getting really wet as the rain had started in ernest. To make matters worse, the wind was really howling and I had to hold the Buddistick up with one hand, so strong was it blowing. This was making operating my key really difficult, so it was time to call it a day.

Tony was of a similar mind, having achieved the required number of contacts as well, so we packed up and headed for the safety of his truck.

Another successful SOTA activation; one that was challenging to say the least. But that’s what I like about SOTA – every contact really is precious.

Three summit SOTA activation.

Sunday 9 August 2015 was the day I was to add serious numbers to my SOTA scores. This was the day Andrew VK1NAM and I activated three – yes three – summits.

We set off at 0715 for our first peak, Mt McDonald (VK1/AC-048), which is situated some 18km west from my apartment in Canberra City. Although this is only a 1 pointer, it is nevertheless 789m in altitude. From the car park at the base of the mountain, the round trip up on foot would take around two hours.

Andrew VK1NAM leading the way up. He has been there before!

Andrew VK1NAM leading the way up. He has been there before!

I had decided to press my Yaesu FT-817 into operating this time instead of my Elecraft KX1 because one of the aims of the excursion was to participate in the 6 and 10m SOTA challenge. I set up my Buddistick antenna, tuned it up on 10m with my Hendricks BLT tuner and put out a call.

Me listening for contacts.

Me listening for contacts.

After about an hour, it was time to pack up, head back down and make our way to our next summit, Mt Taylor. I was happy with the 9 contacts I made.

If I thought the going was going to get any easier, I was dead wrong. Mt Taylor (VK1/AC-037) is 855m high and took about 45 minutes to climb. Boy, with a full backpack, the going was difficult and required constant stops to suck in air. But the view over the city made it all well worth it, even though this summit also only scores 1 point.

I managed 11 contacts, which I was delighted with. On the way down, we walked passed a bunch of the locals, who have us quizzical looks and a wide berth.

This is kangaroo country!

This is kangaroo country!

At 1430 we made our way to our final summit for the day, Isaacs Ridge (VK1/AC-041). Here too, the going up on foot was difficult and required all of my sapped energy to make it to the top. Boy, we are made to work hard for these one-pointers!

Working the last 7 contacts for the day.

Working the last 7 contacts for the day.

By the time we packed up and headed back down to the car, it was getting quite cold. I was more than pleased with the 27 contacts I had made.

Preparing my Buddistick for the next SOTA activation.

On Sunday 2 August 2015 we are having a SOTA party in the ACT. As many of us as possible will be activating as many summits as possible, especially seeing there is a 10m and 6m challenge on at present.

So to add to the fun, I decided to see what I can do on 10m. This means I won’t be using my trusty Elecraft KX1 but my Yaesu FT817. The Buddistick will still be my antenna of choice.

Seeing I haven’t used the Buddistick on 10m before, I thought I’d better tune it up beforehand so as not to waste too much time on location.

I headed out to my usual spot behind the Australian War Memorial and set up my portable station, using 28.059 as the frequency. All I then had to do was to connect up a spare connector onto the coil for a tap, and sort out the correct length of wire for the counterpoise.

I connected up my lightweight antenna tuning unit to confirm that I had a good 50 ohm match. This ATU is the Hendricks BLT tuner.

I found the best tap to be at turn 2 and a third of a turn to the left on the main coil, with about 8 turns of counterpoise wire let out. That’s about 8 feet. At this setting, the little LED on the tuner went out, so that’s about as good a match as can be had.

The blue cap is the tap for 10m.

The blue cap is the tap for 10m.

Luckily I spent the time sorting out the tuning as I also found the power plug to be broken. The rig was actually working off the internal battery and not my 12V gel cell. So it was back to my apartment to make hasty repairs. Fortunately I had a spare power lead, one that had a cigarette lighter plug on the end, so I was able to cut that off and crimp on spade connectors. This is a temporary fix as my reverse polarity protection that was attached to the original lead now no longer works, so it’ll be a matter of double checking before connecting up the power. Not having a soldering iron here in Canberra is a nuisance, but such is life.

Activating Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040

Although I have already activated Mt Ainslie, I decided to walk up there again on Sunday 5 July as Andrew, VK1NAM would be activating VK1/AC-044 Boboyan Ranges, which is a four-pointer.

My plan was to do a summit to summit contact on 2m FM.

The day dawned cold and wintery, and for Canberra that means foggy too. So it was on with the cold weather gear, including beanie and gloves. I also packed my backpack with my Elecraft KX1, Buddistick antenna, tripod, coax and headphones. Seeing I was up there I would get onto CW as well.

The walk from my city apartment was via the Australian War Memorial and up the pathway to the summit from the Remembrance Nature Park at rear of this world class museum.

The walk would be 4.5 km return, with some sections being quite steep. The walk is called the Kakoda Track. The path is good and the trees along the way are fantastic, especially when shrouded in mist.

A winter wonderland on the way up.

A winter wonderland on the way up.

At the top I made contact with Andrew on FM and bagged another S2S point. Then I worked VK1VIC and VK1GVC, also on 2m FM. Time now to set up the CW station.

While walking along the summit to find a good location to erect the antenna, I came across Al, VK1RX, who had erected a wonderful homebrew 10m two element yagi. He was well into working the USA as part of the 6m and 10m challenge.

Al, VK1RX in the thick of 10m action.

Al, VK1RX in the thick of 10m action.

Once I was organised, I put out a spot and began calling CQ. It wasn’t long before the calls began coming in. I worked VK3PF, VK3AFW, VK2IO, VK2AOH and VK3HRA in quick succession. I was delighted. As I was only using six internal AA alkaline batteries, I was only putting out 1w, so this was well and truly a QRP activation.

That being the end of the activation, I packed up and headed back down the mountain. My SOTA scores are now:
Activator’s Log: 8 points
Chaser’s Log: 25 points
Summit to Summit: 20 points.

Activating Black Mountain VK1/AC-042

Sunday 28 June arrived, cold and foggy. Early morning temperature in Canberra CBD was around 1 Degree C. It was the day I had decided to activate Black Mountain as it is one of the easy ones to get to. It is one of the tourist destinations and is on the bus route.

As I approached, I could see the Telstra Tower that is located on the summit just poking out of the clouds.

You can just make out the tower in the clouds.

You can just make out the tower in the clouds.

By the time I disembarked from the bus, the imposing tower was very impressive indeed. I wondered if all that transmitting gear would interfere with my signals, especially 2m FM.


The Telstra Tower is an impressive sight from my operating position.

I set up my Buddistick antenna and tuned it for 20m and 40m. SWR came in at around 1.1 with the help of the built in ATU in my Elecraft KX1 so I was happy.

The Buddistick in position amongst the trees on the summit.

The Buddistick in position amongst the trees on the summit.

Operating CW at 15 words per minute is my favourite mode of operation. And with six internal AA alkaline batteries, the rig was putting out a constant 1W, which was fine for the job. I made contact with four stations; VK2CCW, VK2COX, VK3BYD and VK2YW. Then it was time to disassemble the station and head for home.

This summit has a brass plaque to let visitors know how high up it is.

Some useful information here.

Some useful information here.

Black Mountain only counts for 1 point, but that’s OK. I spend an enjoyable hour there using, and proving, my portable radio set-up.


Activating Orroral Hill, VK1/AC-012

Now I understand why this ‘hill’ has only been activated once before! There were times I seriously doubted my ability to make it to the top, it was that challenging.

But let me start at the beginning.

I made contact with Andrew, VK1NAM, who planned to reactivate this summit. I say reactivate because he was the bloke who activated it for the first time back in 2013. I asked if I could accompany him and he said there was room in his car for the trip, so I was delighted. Coming along also would be Adan, VK1FJAW.

Orroral Hill is an interesting place, being situated some 49km from Canberra City in the Namadgi National Park. It is famous for another reason; it was there that a space tracking station operated 24/7 between 1965 to 1984 as part of NASA’s world wide tracking and data network.

This is the footprint of the huge dish that has since been taken away.

This is the footprint of the huge dish that has since been taken away.

We parked the car here, put our back packs on and headed for the hills. The first leg of our hike would take us to the remains of the Orroral Geodetic Observatory, some 4.1 km away.

Adan (left) and Andrew signing the visitors log. This is a good safety measure that I would come to understand as he progressed. It's so easy to get lost up there.

Adan (left) and Andrew signing the visitors log. This is a good safety measure that I would come to understand as we progressed. It’s so easy to get lost up there.

This leg was on a formed path that got progressively steeper as we made our way ever deeper into the bush. The average grade was 9% and it took us an hour and twenty minutes to reach the telescope for a rest.

The ten ton telescope and laser originated in Arizona (USA). Laser pulses were fired to the moon and bounced back via retroreflector mirrors placed on the moon's surface by Apollo astronauts.

The ten ton telescope and laser originated in Arizona (USA). Laser pulses were fired to the moon and bounced back via retroreflector mirrors placed on the moon’s surface by Apollo astronauts.

From the telescope to the summit is only 1.6 km away but this is where the going gets tough. You see, there are no tracks so it’s a matter of scrub-bashing through the thick wattle undergrowth. The scrub is so thick that frequently you can’t see where you are going and need to trust your GPS to keep you on course. The wearing of gloves paid off as you have to part the thick scrub by hand to get through.

Adan (left) and I take another frequent stop to suck in air and let our legs regain some strength so we can push on.

Adan (left) and I take another frequent stop to suck in air and let our legs regain some strength so we can push on.

This leg took us 1 hour 40 minutes, more than the first leg, due to the almost impassable scrub. The gradient here was a very steep 16%.

Andrew making slow progress through the heavy scrub.

Andrew making slow progress through the heavy scrub.

At times the going was so tough that it took us 30 minutes to cover a mere 10m. But we made it to the top and were rewarded with a most magnificent view.

I erected my Buddistick antenna on this huge slab of granite. There was no soil at all, just granite.

I erected my Buddistick antenna on this huge slab of granite. There was no soil at all, just granite.

Height above sea level at our operating position was 1594 meters. I was using my Elecraft KX1 with 6 internal AA Alkaline batteries, so I was only able to put out 1 Watt. Nevertheless, I was more than happy with the four contacts I made (in addition to two on FM simplex). One of them was with VK5CZ, who was also on a summit, VK5/SE-003 in South Australia.

Admiring the view with Andrew (left).

Admiring the view with Andrew (left).

After two hours operating, we decided it was time for a group photograph before packing up and beginning the long decent.

Orroral Peak 11

Ascent Data:
Leg 1. 406 metres
Leg 2. 268 metres