Leaving Canberra at 7am and heading out via Hoskinstown to the South Black Range summit, I was ready by 8:30 am to make contact with a group of SOTA enthusiasts back in Canberra. The plan was to first use 146.5 fm to make local contacts with whoever was there. Then go to 1296 MHz ssb to make a few contacts there, and then go to the HF bands.
Right on time, Andrew Vk1AD spotted himself on sotawatch.org showing he was set up and ready for the morning’s contacts with a group of SOTA trainees at Mt Stromlo.
Also Matt VK1MA, Al VK1RX and Ian VK1DI were on other summits. These four operators were on air on the first day of SOTA in VK1, 1st Feb 2013 and we were all on air when each of us have qualified for the 1000 point Mountain Goat award.
We made our contacts and after the 4th contact, several goat bleats were heard on my radio.
I then moved to 1296 and made contacts with Andrew VK1AD and Bill VK1MCW. The contact with Bill was made on CW as a first for 1296 SOTA in vk1.
After that it was 80m and 40m. Conditions were favouring longer distances on 40m and it was necessary to use 80m to make contacts into Sydney or into the Melbourne area or any points closer in.
After spending several hours on the summit and getting colder all the time, it being only just above freezing point, I was suddenly surprised by hearing a voice. There was Matt VK1MA walking towards me grinning and offering me a Mountain Goat ale. We are lucky in Australia to have a boutique brewery that has produced this very aptly named ale.
After completing the activation and packing away, Matt helped me carry all the equipment back to the car down the hill a bit, then I headed off to Mt Cowangerong to make it a double activation for the day.
My activator score after the Gippstech trip was 984 so I was then able to plan two activations of 8 point summits to reach and exceed 1000 points, the requirement for the Mountain Goat award under the SOTA programme.
Thursday 19th July brought reasonable weather and Friday was forecast with rain and snow down to 900m. The summit I had in mind was Yankee Ned, Vk2/SW-026 at just over 1200m, but I did not plan to sit in falling snow, sleet or rain while doing it. So Thursday it was and I set out from Yass in the morning, arriving at Wee Jasper about 50 mins later, then reaching the summit parking spot at 90 or 100 minutes. Remarkably there was logging traffic on the Wee Jasper forest road and the dry weather allowed the truck to stir up a huge dust cloud, making it necessary to drop back and allow the dust to settle.
At Yankee Ned it was a 20 min walk up to the summit itself, where I set up my ZS6BKW doublet, the LDG tuner and the FT817. I also had brought an amplifier and planned to try it if conditions made contacts withe the 5w power level too difficult. As it happened, after making only one contact on 80m CW and making no SSB contacts after calling for 10 minutes, I decided to connect the amplifier into the antenna circuit between the radio and the ATU. It made quite a difference, and I was able to make a string of contacts in short time. One contact was with Tony VK3CAT who was mobile in Melbourne and offered to stop shortly and give me a CW contact. That was the first of several CW contacts and I was very pleased to qualify the summit on CW as well as SSB.
By then it was 15:30 and the sun was getting noticeably lower in the sky, the pine trees around the summit were sufficiently tall and thick to cast quite a cold shadow over me and my equipment. So after making all the contacts that seemed possible I packed everything up and descended to the car with 995 points on the virtual scoreboard. All was ready for the coming Sunday and the activation that would seal the deal for the MG award.
Gippstech is a technical conference convened by the Eastern Zone radio club in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. While the trip from the Canberra area is about 650-700 km it is worth it because the content of the presentations is uniquely valuable. Some presenters are very skilled both in the technical work they do and in presenting it. Some are even entertaining!
As the trip from Canberra takes me past a number of SOTA summits and WWFF parks and nature reserves, it seems only sensible to call into those locations and run up the activator score a bit.
So I activated
The Peak VK2/SM-068 (8+3)
Mt Delegate VK3/VG-034 (8+3)
Goonmirk Rocks (8+3)
the first two on the trip to the conference and the third on the way back. I originally intended to activate the three summits on the southbound journey but I was running behind on time and had to skip the third one on the first day.
While at the conference I stayed with a long term friend Peter VK3PF and we naturally started to discuss what summits were available to be activated on the day after the conference. One thing led to another and that led to us heading up into the hills north of Morwell on the Monday. The summits activated that day were:
Conners Plain (8+3)
Mt Selma (8+3)
Mt Useful (8+3)
On the following day I activated Goonmirk Rocks on my way north. I only have a few photos of the forest, more interesting than radios and antennas actually…
Once you are in this forest you are in Erinnundra National Park. My silly GPS referred to it as Errindundra. But then, every animal warning sign is displayed on the GPS as “animal crossing” which is rather silly.
This weekend’s haul provided 72 points at a time when I was nearing the 1k mark and was very welcome. Only 16 points to reach the Mountain Goat level after this weekend.
Thanks to Peter for doing all the driving and advising on routes etc.
I thought it would be interesting to be within reach of the Sydney and Blue Mountains areas for this contest. The Illawarra and Central Tablelands regions are the obvious choices. I decided to go to Mt Wanganderry, Mt Alexandra and Mt Gibraltar and I optimistically planned to spend about an hour on each, which with travel time would probably consume 6 hours, assuming I was on site for the first summit at the start of the contest at 11 am local time, 0100 UTC.
The bands I could use in my FT817 were 50, 144 and 432 MHz. Adding a SGLAB transverter I could extend that to 1296 MHz. Antennas were
for 50 MHz, a half wave centre fed vertical in the configuration of a coaxial dipole, with a choke at the half wave point and another a quarter wave lower than the first choke.
for 144 and 432 MHz I used a horizontal wire dipole attached to two fibreglass spreaders, mounted onto the fibreglass mast using a hub
for 1296 MHz the antenna was a 4 element yagi, with the transverter mounted as close as possible to minimise losses in the RG58 coaxial cable.
I logged my contacts using the VK Port-a-log software on a Lenovo 7 inch tablet computer. I had the option of trying the latest contest version of this package but the designer Peter VK3ZPF was concerned that the 2 hour repeat contact rule for this contest would not be accepted by the nearest contest option in the contest version. So I decided to use the standard parks and peaks version of the package. This worked but required a bit of scrolling up and down to find the gridsquare field when logging the details of each contact made.
After reaching the site later than ideal, around 12:30 local time, I set up the antennas and equipment. To comply with SOTA rules my gear was powered by batteries and the entire station was portable and independent of the car.
I made some initial contacts on the lower bands followed by some attempted contacts with Tim VK2XAX on 1296 MHz SSB. I could hear Tim but my 2.5w apparently wasn’t enough for him to hear me. Then there was a good contact with Mike Vk2FLR close to the Sydney CBD, 96km away.
I was about to close the site and move to the next one when I noticed one of my tyres was flat and I needed to change it before I could move. After changing the tyre I was able to make repeat contacts with several of the stations I had worked earlier, so I had been there at least 2 hours by that time. (Not keeping to plan too well.)
But finally by 3:15pm I set off for the next summit, Mt Alexandra, about 20km away. It is located directly to the north of the residental streets of Mittagong with a parking area at the end of a bush track leading up past the houses. After packing the bag and hefting the antenna poles, tripod and 2nd FT817, I walked over to the start of the climb up the hill only to find a sign advising that the track was under repair and would not reopen until late July. So I returned to the car, unpacked it all and set off for Mt Gibraltar, which was now my second and final summit for the day, arriving at about 4pm local time.
Setting up to the east of the first cyclone fenced compound, I was able to replicate my earlier setup fairly quickly and get onto the lower three bands. Connecting up the 1296 transverter and antenna, I found a very strong signal again from the VK2RSY beacon on 1296.420, then made a good contact with Mike VK2FLR albeit at lower signal levels than from the first location. I don’t know whether I had changed something significant, or there was a connector problem, but signals were not as good as they had been. There were trees obstructing the view towards Sydney so perhaps they were attenuating signals on 1296. The distance was slightly shorter than the earlier contact, about 91km.
After uploading my log to the home computer, I found I had made 27 contacts but it is possible one of my contacts was made too early for a valid repeat.
On balance I think this operation confirmed that even a low power radio (5W) can be used effectively from a good location in these events. I hope others who own similar radios and can make similar (very) simple antennas will be encouraged by these results and participate in future. I think hearing strong signals on the VHF and higher bands is still fascinating to me and far more interesting than a totally predictable and reliable contact via a repeater.
After a failed activation of this reserve a few weeks earlier I wanted to get some contacts for this reserve into the log. The QRP Club’s QRP Hours contest on 22nd October 2017 seemed like a nice opportunity.
I set out from Yass about 45 minutes before the contest start as I had a good idea of where I would operate. On site I found I had to be satisfied with a sloping site and I put up the usual linked dipole with all links connected, giving 40m operation. I decided to use the MTR3B CW transceiver for the CW section of the event and use the FT817 for the SSB section.
The MTR3B transceiver’s principal characteristic is its compact size and low power usage in particular on receive mode where it is about 40 milliamps, about 1/10th of the FT817.
However the inability to conveniently and rapidly browse across the band looking for other stations calling CQ is a limitation for contesting I had not really considered before. Nevertheless I persisted with it to try and find a way to use it best. I had not yet used the Direct Frequency Entry function and I really needed that, so I could jump back to a starting frequency. Also I had not recorded anything in any of the text memories. So during the contest I opened the LNR website and read the instructions for storing text into one of the memories. The obvious thing to have recorded for quick playback is the CQ call. So at least I achieved that during this event!
During the CW section I made 5 contacts but of those only one was within VK2 and that was with Mike VK2IG, who with partner Helen VK2FENG was portable in another WWFF nature reserve, not far away from me, but far enough to sound distant. No AGC or even AF gain control on the MTR3 – I have a volume control in the ear buds lead. Other contacts were with VK3, 4 and 5. There was no “normal” NVIS propagation. Very pleased to have worked Warren VK3BYD/5 somewhere in the middle of South Australia, and Grant VK4JAZ who was operating from home in Brisbane. QRP is a combination of frustration and achievements.
After a half hour or so, I got a reminder that I was operating in a nature reserve, in the form of a sudden downpour of rain that became hail for about 10 minutes. Fortunately I had suspected rain was imminent and had erected the “sun shelter” shortly after the start of the event. But the slope of the operating location meant icy rainwater was running downhill and under my seat, a small foam sleeve sold for protecting computer tablets and small laptops. Before long the whole site was wet and cold and my clothing was drenched from the waist down.
The SSB section commenced at 0600 UTC (5pm local) and after working Helen VK2FENG nearby, Laurie VK5LJ and a few more, I ran out of potential contacts.
At that point, a lull in the rain seemed to have arrived so I decided packing up and leaving would be prudent.
Half an hour later I was enjoying a very welcome warm shower at home.
Fortunately my log is not important for the QRP Hours contest other than a check log, as I am the contest manager. I’m glad I was able to add a contact to a few other logs and in the process I did activate the WWFF park, though with insufficient contacts to qualify for any activation points. That’s ok, this park is near to my home and I will return, hopefully in dry weather.
Having an opportunity to activate a few summits I decided to head west of Canberra, travelling out towards Tumut on the Brindabella Road past Picadilly Circus on the saddle between Bulls Head and Mt Coree. I realised as I drove down this road that I had never driven on this section before. It is narrow in places and not unlike the Mt Franklin Rd as it passes Mt Franklin, narrow and with a few hundred metres drop on one side of the road. However it is wider and reasonably well surfaced the lower you go down to the Goodradigbee river.
After climbing back up to about the 1100m level heading west I drove past a few traces of snow from the past week.
One part of the road had a bit more snow and I stopped again to take a snap.
At Mt Tumorrama there was no snow but still plenty of blackberry thorns. I did find a short piece of RG58 Coax with a BNC plug on one end. The other end looked like it had been broken off – possibly by a mountain goat? I didn’t take a pic of that.
At Yankee Ned Hill, the walk up the southern slope revealed more traces of recent snow.
The temperature on the hill was cool, the temperature in the car indicated 8C but I think it was colder on the hill. My hands were very cold by the time I packed up and walked back downhill.
Conditions were not good, but I managed to qualify both summits, one one both CW and SSB. 80m didn’t work as well as I hoped it would. Too early in the day perhaps for longer distances. I heard a brief burst of a voice after one of my CQ calls – I thought it may have been a VK3 but it was only a second of so – don’t know why that occurred. Meteor scatter? Sporadic E? (not all possible answers are likely to be valid)
I used the IC703 and a ZS6BKW style antenna fed with 300 ohm ribbon on this activation. Its big advantage is band agility. No need to lower the antenna to change links when changing bands. It is lighter than the linked dipole, mainly due to the many links I have in mine (two for each band).
My LiFePO4 battery appears to be behaving like it is on the way out. It is 4 years old but for the first year of its life I was apparently not using the right type of charger. One cell seems to die much quicker than the others and goes down to 3.0v or below, after which I stop using it. I may have to replace it and this time I will use the balanced charging option religiously. I previously misunderstood the battery charge options and thought it was applying a balanced charge to all cells in standard charging mode. Not so.
Other equipment: my cardio fitness seems to be returning. This is not a difficult hill to walk up, and I was pleased to be able to do that without stopping or feeling uncomfortable. I guess I stopped very briefly to take the photos but in general I can report that 3 months after my operation, the engine is running well.
Afterwards I drove to Tumut then Gundagai and returned to Yass via the Hume Highway. I didn’t fancy driving down the bush track to Wee Jasper at dusk, when it is kangaroo feeding time and they are at their most unpredictable and dangerous.
Having seen the Steve Weber designed compact transceivers on the web and having seen an MTR owned by VK1FB, I was delighted to find one for sale on vkclassifieds.net.au recently. After duly receiving it and waiting for my birthday to pass (due to my wife’s insistence on waiting for the actual day to receive gifts), I wanted to test it from home and learn the menu system, which like the radio itself, is very compact.
Using my home antenna, a fan dipole with elements for 80, 40, 20 and 10m, I connected the radio to power (a 3S Lifepo4), headphones and the antenna and turned it on. It sent the number 4 in morse, saying it was on 40m. I tuned it around the CW end of the band for a while and tried a few of the control functions. Then I returned it to the default 7030 frequency by switching it off and on again (where have I heard that before?)
Then in the headphones I heard “cq sota de vk5cz” which was Ian at summit vk5/ne-095 in the north east of South Australia. I listened to his contact with VK3PF and then heard him ask QRZ? (“who is calling”, or “is there anyone else there?”) to which I responded with my callsign. He replied immediately with a good signal report. I gave him a report and then told him this was my first contact with the MTR3B. He acknowledged that and wished me good luck. I returned the greetings and signed off.
Yes the new radio works despite being smaller than my morse paddle. It’s the blue box in this pic. Produces about 3-5 watts on 7, 10 and 14 MHz amateur bands. The Mountain Topper Radio 3B.
Ian/Buhd vk5cz posted to facebook a comment that this contact was the highlight of the activation, which was great to read. And later he also published a video clip in which the contact can be heard taking place.
A day later I had the MTR connected again, this time on 14060. I tuned it up to 14062 and there was a familiar callsign, VK5CZ, in contact with someone. Looking at SOTAWATCH.ORG I saw that Ian had recently called CQ from another SOTA summit. I waited until the contact was finished, then heard him send QRZ? and again sent my callsign. Back he came with a 559 with QSB (fading) report, which was pretty good. I told him it was the MTR again, which he was pleased to hear about.
Now I need a contact on the remaining band provided by the MTR, 10 MHz, for which I need to make some alternative arrangements as my home antenna does not have a suitable impedance on that band. The MTR is designed for a 50 ohm non-reactive load. I will route it through an antenna matchbox which can be adjusted to present a 50 ohm impedance to the transmitter.
So far so good. I am very impressed by the MTR and look forward to many lightweight activations with it.
After getting my FT817 final stage replaced, and all power settings reset to meet spec, I started to use the radio again and quickly realised that all the memory settings (frequency and mode) had been wiped.
This made it necessary to change bands using the band switch (!) and manually change between SSB and CW mode, or occasionally FM, dialing up and down the band as necessary. With the frequency settings in memories, I only needed to move between memory channels to go from SSB on 7090 to CW on 7032, for example. And on higher bands, I had several beacon frequencies stored in some memories, allowing me to quickly move between the various 10m and 6m beacon frequencies to get a quick impression of band conditions.
So today I dug out the details of the FT817 memory manager software, retrieved the file of frequency settings stored on the computer, added a few new ones and saved the lot in the 817. Then repeated the process for my second FT817. So they now have an identical set of frequencies in their memories. Makes them somewhat interchangeable.
All the second radio is missing is a cw filter. I have plans to sort that out soon.
The details of the memory manager and how to interface it with the radio from a windows box are all in a previous post to this blog. I actually read the post to remind myself of how it worked!
It began with some difficulties climbing Mt Taylor in January 2017. I found after the first 500m of walking, about a quarter of the distance, that I became very tired and did not have the energy to continue. At the time I put this down to general fitness having dropped during the last year, with an arm injury in February 2016 slowing me down considerably and plantar fasciitis developing when I did resume climbing hills and curtailing much of my usual summit activity. As I am no longer what anyone will call “young” any more, extra care is required when doing anything challenging. *
However what I should have realised is that what I was experiencing was one of this list of symptoms:
Pain areas: in the chest, jaw, or neck
Pain types: can be like a clenched fist in the chest or sudden in the chest
Whole body: dizziness, fatigue, inability to exercise, light-headedness, or sweating
Gastrointestinal: heartburn, indigestion, or nausea
Respiratory: rapid breathing or shortness of breath
Also common: anxiety, chest tightness, or fast heart rate
Some readers will recognise these symptoms as those of angina, a sign that the heart does to have enough oxygen from its blood supply to continue to work at the rate required by your current exertion level.
The Mayo Clinic describes angina thus:
Angina is typically described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness or pain in your chest.
Notice there is no mention of a sharp pain you would associate immediately with your heart. Why not? The reason is apparently that the heart does not have its own nerves like other organs. So when your brain registers there is something going wrong in your heart it tells you that some other organ is under stress.
It is usually caused by blockages in the arteries servicing the heart (as distinct from the arteries the heart pumps blood into for circulation to the rest of your body). These coronal arteries are crucial for continued operation of your heart.
In my case, I experienced the tightness in my chest as I walked back to my accommodation in Canberra on 20th April. I didn’t recognise the tightness as angina and all I did was stop walking and wait for the discomfort to dissipate, which it did. But on reaching my daughter’s place, I made an appointment with the doctor for later that morning, then went to work.
What should I have done? I should have stopped walking right then and called an ambulance. If you ever get that tightness in the chest, or any of those symptoms listed above, go as quickly as possible to the nearest emergency department of a hospital. Or the next best thing if you don’t have access to a hospital.
The doctor diagnosed it as angina and prescribed a pain reduction spray (nitro glycerine) with instructions on what to do if the pain returned. Basically, use the spray as temporary relief but get to a hospital.
Within a half hour of seeing the doctor I had more discomfort and I went to the hospital for treatment. After numerous tests an angiogram was carried out and I was told then that I would have to have a triple bypass operation.
All of that happened as scheduled on 3rd May and I am now recuperating from the operation. I am basically OK but a bit weak and have to steadily regain my strength. It is a very invasive operation but fortunately it is performed quite often and is well proven.
The reason I am sharing all these details is to alert you to this problem. My blood pressure has been in an acceptable range (roughly 125/70) for the last 10 years. My cholesterol readings have been just inside the “safe” range. Yet neither of those indicators predicted this problem was looming for me. If I had been out in th bush needing to walk an hour to even return to my car, who knows what the outcome could have been. But it is quite possible I would not be here to tell you about it. I want to achieve a lot of things in the next 20 years and I now have a chance to do that, thanks to modern medical science.
The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events. I have had some great surprises on these weekends. I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.
I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night. Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds. I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.
The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind. In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car. By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on. I decided to hang on. It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.
In the early morning it seemed to be better. The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad. The rain had cleared. But I hadn’t slept much.
I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator. By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.
The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators. Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.
Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini. A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.
Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area. Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend. VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well. We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.
After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432. We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact. A digital mode would have worked. hmm. More power on my end would have helped too. Double hmm.
The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.
At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too. And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450. I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.
It did, partly. VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ. But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.
My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island. After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.
Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery. I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts. I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals. No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.
The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm. A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.
The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.
Contacts made: 183 total.
50 Mhz: 39
Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916
Points lost due to a wrong grid locator: about 10.
Points lost due to not enough other portables: 500,000.
Amateur Radio, Computing and other activities of Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH