Springbrook National Park dissapointing

Sunday 21st May 2015 was to be a good opportunity to work some Park to Park contacts as the VK5 mob had organised a mass activation to coincide with the WIA AGM. So I decided to activate Springbrook summit VK4/SE-011 and Springbrook National Park VKFF-0463.

The only problem was that Cyclone Debbie had washed away all bridges leading up to Springbrook. The only access road was a back road through the Numinbah Valley. So my wife and I set off nice and early on the 1 hour 40 minute run, but missed the crucial turn and ended up going the normal way up, via the Gold Coast. By the time I realised my mistake it was too late; we were committed.

Just as we drove into the Springbrook National Park, we encountered a road block. Those manning it told us what I suspected. If we wanted to reach the summit we’d have to retrace our route back and go the back route – an additional 40 minutes they told us. So we decided to set up the station along the banks of the river just inside the boundary of the park.

My shack for the activation. Nice cover at least.

My rig for the day was the Yaesu FT-817 with an LDG Z-100 Plus ATU, 7a/h gelcell and an endfed antenna supported by a squid pole. My paddle was the Pico Paddle from Palm Radio in Germany.

This was the first time I used my new Sherpa pack. Fabulous.

All went well and I heard loads of traffic on 40m, all working the various VK5 parks. It was the first time I had been working against pile-ups! Fortunately I was able to tail gate a few contacts and worked two parks: Gerard VK2IO in VKFF-1278 and Rob VK2AAC/2 in VKFF-0004. That was the end of my SSB contacts as my 5W was no match for the 100W stations I was competing with. So it was out with the Pico Paddle and within a few minutes I worked Mike VK2CCW and Ian VK2BJT. CW is really great as it allows you to make contacts despite being low power.

I wasn’t able to activate the summit for SOTA; that will be another time now as I have unfinished business. But we did get to log four contacts towards WWFF and saw first hand the damage a cyclone can cause.

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These are some of the trees that were up-rooted during the cyclone.

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Activating Mt Cotton VK4/SE-115

This was one summit I have wanted to activate for quite some time, partly due its proximity and partly due to the excellent Sirromet Winery nearby. So when Sunday 30 April dawned with beautiful clear skies, I knew it was time. My wife decided this would also make an excellent day out.

The drive to the base of the summit took about 40 minutes. We parked at the bottom in a designated car park and headed for the gate that heralded the beginning of the path up.

This is the beginning of the path up to the summit.

Fortunately the path up is sealed, which made walking up easier, even though it was rather steep at times.

It took us 22 minutes to walk up to the summit.

Once at the top it was simply a matter of seeking out the best operating position. This was important as there are a couple of communication towers there and I didn’t want interference.

The going was tough at times.

I found a suitable spot among a pile of rocks, so I erected the long wire antenna on my squid pole, and connected it up to my Elecraft KX1. It tuned up beautifully on 20m and 40m. For power I use six internal AA 1.5v batteries that give me between 1 and 2 watts output to play with.

It was quite comfortable, really.

I put out my first call on 20m and within seconds was answered by VK3CAT in Victoria. Not bad for 2 watts. I then switched to 40m (only 1 watt) and worked VK2NP, VK2BJT and VK4TJ.

I find the Pico Paddle a wonderful device to use with the KX1. It is magnetically held in place on the tin plate on my home brewed QSO board.

That was sufficient for the activation to count, so it was time to pack up and head off down and to lunch at Sirromet.

Activating Fort Lytton, VKFF-0179

I decided to activate Fort Lytton National Park  on Sunday 23 April 2017 for two reasons: firstly it has never been activated before and secondly, it’s considered to be the birth place of Queensland’s military history.

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The above picture is of the Fort’s parade ground.

This coastal fortress served as Brisbane’s primary defences from 1881 until 1965. It was even used during WW11, when some 89 US submarines were docked here for repairs during the war.

There is an interesting museum there now, including a good display of military radio’s, which I particularly liked.

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I was fortunate in finding an excellent operating position, right alongside the river under a gazebo. The picnic bench was just perfect and it was unoccupied.

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Being a first activation meant that I was able to make a quick ten contacts, on both SSB as well as CW. The rig I used was my FT-817 that tuned an end-fed long wire by means of an LDG auto tuner. My key was my new pico paddle, which worked beautifully.

The weather was perfect, the exhibits were wonderful and the activation was a success. Will need to revisit this site again sometime.

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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:

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Softrock RXTX v6.3: Building the TX Op Amps

This stage has a fairly high component count, so patience was the order of the day. I decided to take it nice and slowly so as to enjoy the process. It would also make sure I didn’t make any mistakes.

The stage consists of four unitary gain op-amps, arranged in pairs. The left channel’s input resolves to two signals: 0° and 180°. The right channel’s input resolves to two signals: 90° and 270°.

Each of the 14 resisters was checked with my DMM to ensure I had the correct ones for insertion into the PCB; it’s easy to mistake brown for red in the colour coding on the tiny resisters.

The Op Amps themselves (IC SOIC-8 dual Op-Amps) were also tiny beasts each with eight pins that required careful soldering so as to ensure no solder bridges or spashover on any of the adjacent empty holes. For this task I used a very handy suction tool that Wallace, VK4CBW, gave me some time ago.

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Positioning U1 on the underside of the board with the suction tool.

Once all the components had been soldered into place and I was certain there were no cold solder joints or solder bridges, it was time to conduct the usual current and voltage tests according to the instructions.

Thankfully my patience paid off with all reading being as expected.

Next is to tackle the TX mixer.