Activating Mt Warning, VK2/NR-001

January 11, 2017 had hardly got going when my son Garrett, his partner Vicky and I set out to activate Mt Warning, an ancient volcano that is said to be over 20 million years old. For this expedition, we hired accommodation in Byron Bay as this would cut down travelling time to the mountain. You see, we wanted to watch the sun rise from the summit.

Mt Warning as seen from Byron Bay.

Mt Warning as seen from Byron Bay.

We packed the car and headed for the base of the mountain at 2.45 am, arriving there at 4.11 am. I was a little surprised to see that we weren’t the only ones with that idea; there were around ten cars parked in the car park already!

An information board advised us that the hike would take between 4 and 6 hours to cover the 9 km track.

We also noticed that right from the start the going was uphill. I could feel this was going to be a most challenging activation. What was beginning to concern me was that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. I mean, Garrett is a professional sportsman and Vicky is an ultra-marathon and Iron Man competitor while I am a newly retired ‘senior’. Was I in the right company or what? At least there were four helicopter landing platforms, which gave some sort of comfort.

The first of four helicopter landing platforms.

The first of four helicopter landing platforms.

Sunrise was around 6 am, but we weren’t at the summit to view it. However, we were close enough and boy, was it spectacular!

This made the climb worthwhile.

This made the climb worthwhile.

We arrived at the hardest part of the climb; this involves a very challenging rock climb that was billed as a grade 5 climb – the hardest in the book. A heavy chain provides essential support all the way up; this part took us a good 20 minutes to complete.

This is a grade 5 climb.

This is a grade 5 climb.

After resting for a few minutes and taking in the view, I erected my squidpole and long wire antenna.

This antenna is prefect for my Elecraft KX1.

This antenna is prefect for my Elecraft KX1.

Then I began calling CQ. After my first contact (with ZL1BZY) the ants appeared. They seemed as fascinated with what was going on as the other mountain climbers.

Ants on my 7 a/h gel cell.

Ants on my 7 a/h gel cell.

I also found out that their bites were painful!

It's hard flicking them away while trying to operate the paddle.

My new QSO board in use. There are some more mods I need to make.

After making six contacts, it was time to pack up and head back down. The weather forecast was for heavy rain and we didn’t fancy the prospect of tackling the chains in the wet.

We passed some massive trees on the way down.

We passed some massive trees on the way down.

We arrived back at the base of the mountain at 10.24 am and headed for a wonderful cafe in the heart of the Wollumbin National Park for breakfast.

This was the hardest activation I have done so far. I still wonder how an old fella who passed us on the way up did so bare foot. He said he could feel the rocks better that way!

This activation bought home to me the absolute necessity of minimizing weight as much as possible. My back pack weighed in at a hefty 8 kg, and that was without our water bottles. The biggest culprit here was my gel cell, which is far too heavy. I think next time I will use six internal AA cells and sacrifice 3 Watts of power. Either that or I will invest in a  LiPo battery pack. I also took up items that I never used, like binoculars.

Having done most of my climbing in the ACT so far, I was inappropriately dressed. All other climbers were in shorts and singlets while I wore long pants and a long sleeve shirt; far too hot.

So there are always lessons to be learned, aren’t there?

SOTA Activation of Mt Tamborine, VK4/SE-059

Mt Tamborine is an iconic Aussie tourist destination situated in the Gold Coast hinterland. The summit is right in the middle of a suburb but fortunately there is a good lookout in the Tamborine National Park very nearby.

This activation was a good chance for me to try out my new Pico Paddle with my Elecraft KX1.

I had ordered a Pico plate as well; this is a thin plated piece of metal with self-adhesive tabs on the back. The idea is for this to stick onto whatever surface you want to mount the paddle on. I decided to mount mine on my newly made QSO board.

After erecting my squid pole to secure the end of a 24 foot long wire to, I ran out the two counterpoises and connected up the rig.

Installing the long wire antenna.

Installing the long wire antenna.

Then I began calling on 20m.

This was my first attempt at using my new QSO board, with the Pico Paddle mounted in place.

This was my first attempt at using my new QSO board, with the Pico Paddle mounted in place.

It wasn’t long before I realised the Pico plate was simply not up to the job; the paddle began moving around. The magnets were just not strong enough, even though my sending was gentle. I would need to fix this.

Anyway, the bands were in bad shape and I only managed three contacts all morning. Those were with ZL1BYQ and VK7CW on 20m, and VK4EKA on 40m. I also tried SSB with my Yaesu FT-817 on both bands but to no avail.

Back home I began modifying my QSO board.

The Pico Paddle with the Pico plate in place on the board.

The Pico Paddle with the Pico plate in place on the board.

A quick email to Palm Radio in Germany brought the suggestion that I should try using a metal plate instead of the Pico plate, so I raided my workshop and cut a piece of plate to fit. This was then hot glued into place.

The Pico Paddle now attaches itself really firmly to my board, thanks to the metal plate.

The Pico Paddle now attaches itself really firmly to my board, thanks to the metal plate.

Now to head back to Mt Tamborine some day to give it a go. Perhaps then I will manage four contacts and score the two points that are on offer.

A clipboard for SOTA

One of the challenges I have had to contend with while operating in hostile environments up on a distant summit has been logistical or organisational in nature. You know, trying to deal with various pieces of equipment, pen and notebook, wires, seating arrangements etc, all while trying to decipher morse code, taking notes and ensuring that everything works as intended.

This takes more than one set of hands to do properly.

While sitting on my chair up on The Knobby recently (VK4/SE-097) it occurred to me that the time had come to construct a simple clip board upon which I could mount my Elecraft KX1, my log sheets and anything else I might need. So I headed back down once the activation was completed and rushed straight to my workshop, where I selected some suitable pieces of timber for the job.

This is what I came up with:

sota-clipboard

Better antenna for satellite work

Having worked my fist ‘bird’ with a hand-held, it was time to take the next step and try using a better antenna. The ubiquitous ‘rubber duckie’ has been said by many to be nothing more than an eloborate ground; it’s certainly a compromise antenna designed for simplicity and basic functionality at best.

Wallace, VK4CBW, suggested I try working SO-50 with a gain antenna as it would improve transmission and reception markedly. He offered to lend me his Elk hand-held antenna.

This antenna is a log periodic cut for the 2m/70cm bands and is only two foot long – perfect for satellite work.

I assembled the antenna (it comes with the elements all colour-coded for easy assembly) and put out a call the next time the satellite was within range. Bob, VK3MQ, replied and we had a superb, short, QSO. I was delighted as the distance between us was 1,346 km (836 miles). Not bad for an FM contact on simplex.

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Next I worked Cam, VK4FAAJ, who was using a hand-held coupled to a home-brew yagi he made from a tape measure! Nice copy too, even though he was in my neck of the woods.

 

 

 

Working the satellites

I always wanted to work the satellites as there seems to be something mystical about them. They aren’t called ‘the final frontier’ for nothing.

After talking to Wallace, VK4CBW, it became apparent that this would be quite feasible with a dual-band hand held transceiver and some satellite-tracking software on my computer.

My Boafeng GT-3TP would do fine so I downloaded and installed gpredict into my Surface Pro 4.

I proceeded to monitor my satellite of choice, SO-50, which I chose because it is an FM satellite. Wallace helped program in the receive and send frequencies into my hand-held; receive frequencies starting at 436.805 and progressing down at 5khz intervals to 436.780 would be needed to take the Doppler effect into account. Transmit frequency remains at 145.850.

screenshot-1   As the satellite came within range I headed outside and turned on my hand-held, with the squelch turned right down. Pointing the rubber-duckie antenna towards the ground, I put out a call .. and listened. Turning this way and that, I repeated the call until I heard Wallace reply.

I had made my first contact. The interesting thing about this was that his shack is only some 300m down the road from my shack, but we were communicating via a satellite in space. The pass only lasted around eight minutes or so; brevity is the name of the game here.

My next attempt would be with an Elk antenna, a specially-designed four-element log periodic antenna that Wallace will lend me.

Getting to grips with DMR

I’ve been monitoring developments in the amateur radio world for quite a while now, eager to keep abreast of the latest trends as the world dashes headlong down the slippery road of technological advancement. Most of the action seemed to me to be happening in the digital domain.

Digital voice is where most of the commercial and military world is headed, so I zeroed in on DMR as an emerging amateur radio mode.

D Star has been operating in this space for quite a while now but the proprietary nature of this venture has many sitting on the sidelines. One of the reasons is probably because of the high price of the hardware needed.

Being an open source computer fan for many years now, I became aware of a new mode that is gathering pace world-wide: DMR-MARC.

DMR-MARC is an all-digital group of over 500 DMR-MARC repeaters in 48 countries with 33036 registered users. And both lists are growing all the time. In Australia there are repeaters in NSW, VIC, WA, QLD, with the latest in the ACT currently being commissioned as I write. These repeaters operate on the 70cm band.

My friend Wallace, VK4CBW, also became interested in this fast-growing mode. He decided to take the plunge and imported two DMR hand-held transceivers from a factory in China. The brand is Vitai, which neither of us had heard of before.

When they arrived, we were very pleased with the quality of construction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Chinese make excellent rigs these days.

The first thing we had to do was to register as a DMR user. This we did through the DMR-MARC web site and it wasn’t long before we received our new ID numbers.

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Now it was time to sample the marvels of digital voice communications. We began by working simplex between us; what quality! And our conversations were private too; no other user could listen to our conversations.

It was now time for me to try for some DX. For this, I discovered that most operators monitor a very useful web page, which acts as a control centre for VK operators: it allows us to see who is working on the various channels or talk groups.

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All I had to do now was to select the talk group of interest and hit the PTT button on my hand-held and I would be up and away.

So far I have worked stations in Malta, South Africa and Finland, all with 4 Watts from a hand-held transceiver!