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.


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


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.

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:


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.

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.


My first SOTA activation

Today I activated my first summit. I think this aspect of amateur radio is going to be addictive!

The summit I chose to activate was Mt Ainslie in Canberra. I chose this as it isn’t too far from where I am staying as I would be relying on leg power to get there. Also, being close to the CBD I figured there would be a fair chance of making some contacts. Bearing in mind that four are needed for the activation to count, I didn’t want to waste a Sunday without results.

I needn’t have worried.

I started out by posting an entry on the SOTA web page announcing my intentions and the time I anticipated commencing operations.

The gear I would be taking included my Elecraft KX1, Buddistick antenna, headphones and a length of RG58 coax. I also packed in my Yaesu FT-250 for 2m work and my Jingtong for 70cm. All this fitted nicely into my backpack, but I would need to carry my camera tripod, upon which I mount the Buddistick, by hand as it wouldn’t fit into the backpack. A bottle of water and some lunch completed my kit.

I set out at 8:35am local time and after about 35 minutes arrived at the turn off to Mt Ainslie.

Now for the hard part - uphill all the way.

Now for the hard part – uphill all the way.

I arrived at my destination one hour fifteen minutes after leaving my QTH. That was some walk! Climbing to the summit took the best part of 45 minutes and was very tiring; I had to stop and rest no less than three times.

Once at the summit I located a nice quiet spot out of the way of people and set up my gear. It took a fair while to tune the Buddistick but I eventually achieved an SWR on 40m of 1.7:1, and 1.9:1 on 20m. Power levels were 1.5W for both bands as I had chosen to load six alkaline AA cells into the KX1.

I found this large rock to sit on during the activation.

I found this large rock to sit on during the activation.

At the advertised time I put out a CQ full of enthusiasm, but this soon began to fade as nobody replied. I tried both HF frequencies without luck, then tried the VHF and UHF frequencies, both of which were dead quiet.

Then the calls started.

For the next two hours I fielded calls from as far away as Victoria (VK3-land) which was most gratifying.

I was interested to note that of the eight stations I worked, only the first five were at 1.5W. The batteries faded pretty fast after that with 1W being all I could squeeze out of the rig. By the time I had made my 8th contact, battery power was down to 0.7W, which was too low for me to operate the rig’s internal ATU.

VHF and UHF saw no activity at all, so all that was left was for me to dismantle my station, pack up and begin the long walk back home.

As soon as I had cooled down, I fired up my computer and logged the contacts into the SOTA database. Mt Ainslie (VK1/AC-40), which is situated at grid square QF44NR, is worth 1 point, so I am on my way to Mountain Goat status!