10 November 2015

21. SOTA Activation: Mount Morgan VK2/SM-011

On the same weekend that Andrew VK1NAM cracked the 1000 point barrier to become a SOTA Goat and Andrew VK1DA passed 500 points to become half a Goat, I creeped past 100 points. My glacial pace mostly due to my choice of activating local 1 and 2 point summits before I thought to look further for high value summits. Interestingly, due to the way that SOTA summits have their points allocated, the ACT has many 1 pointers very close to Canberra, that if they were located in NSW, would have been at least worth 4 points. Take for example Mount Majura at 888 meters or Rob Roy at 1099 meters, respectively 1 and 2 pointers in the ACT, but also both higher than Spring Hill, a 4-pointer located just across the ACT border in NSW.

One night I opened my computer and had a look at OzTopo maps, looking for clusters of higher scoring summits, similar to the trio of Webs Ridge, Baldy Range and Dingi Dingi that pushed me over the 100 point line. I identified three peaks in the Tinderies to the west of Canberra and two peaks south of Namadgi near Yaouk. I decided to go for the southern peaks first because they looked more accessible than the Tinderies. After a bit of planning, a mate - Francois - and I headed down Boboyan road on our way to Mount Morgan VK2/SM-011 and Half Moon Peak VK2/SM-016. The plan was to take the road to Yaouk, then Kennedy’s trail and finally Lone Pine fire trail all the way to the top of the ridge next to Mount Morgan from where we would scrub bash our way to the top.

We made good time and arrived at the Lone Pine Trail head around 08:30. I had come this way a few weeks before on a recce mission and could not get up the trail for lack of grip on my 2WD ute. As part of the recce, I walked a few hundred meters up the trail and because I saw no gates, assumed it was all good to the top. Things did not go according to plan. About 500 meters further up the trail than where I had come to earlier, we came to a locked pipe across the road. We would have to heel it from there. This added an extra 4 Km to our return journey and killed the idea of going for both Mount Morgan and Half Moon Peak on the same day.

We started climbing and made good time, covering the 2 Km of fire trail in about 45 minutes. Along the trail we came across (what we took to be) a fancy earthworm: black on top, and light blue below, we were very impressed by our “discovery”. We wondered aloud if locked fire trail gates was in the rural fire service’s best interests: when roads are unused they fall in disrepair, are overgrown etc. Surely, we thought, there had to be a better way to control access than just to lock down every fire trail. We toyed with a few ideas and in no time we turned into the bush and started descending to the saddle at the foot of Mount Morgan’s north-eastern slope. The scrub was not too bad and we could easily weave through the obstacle course.

Halfway up Lone Pine Trail

At the saddle we heard the burbling sound of running water but could see nothing. There were a few dead trees and shrubs that had fallen or grown over a small stream. The water sounded substantial and we made our way across the stream by walking on the sturdiest of dead tree trunks, holding on to dead branches and scrub. We crossed at about S35.73060 E148.79587 (have a look at the GPS track below). After the brook it was up all the way from 1500 meters to the summit at 1874 meters.

A river runs through it - this is where we crossed by walking over tree trunks.

Immediately after the stream the scrub was pretty thick and we had to push through a few small gaps in the growth. The scrub thinned out somewhat and about halfway up we took a short break on a convenient tea break rock. After encountering the first big rocks it wasn’t far before we came upon a large clearing - a nice meadow with tussock grass, short flowery shrubs and a few beautiful old Snow Gums.

Nice meadow with Snow Gums not too far from the summit.

We pushed on and could see the summit to our right, towards the north of our track. We walked up to the ridge and followed along it to the summit. On our way there we walked past big granite tors and one that reminded me of Obelix, Goscinny and Uderzo’s menhir delivering Gaul.

The menhir a la Asterix and Obelix.

We arrived at the summit at 11:45, after about 3 hours of walking. The summit was large and flat, about the size of 3 or 4 football fields. It was covered in tussocky grass, flowering shrubs, Snow Gums and Granite tors. The view was brilliant - 360 degrees unimpeded by any trees or other summits. In the valley to the south we could see what we later identified as lake Eucumbene, 27 Km away. At the highest point Francois found a geocache, placed there by year 12 students from Narrabundah College. It contained a book with the names and comments of other people who had been on the summit. Some of the messages had us in stitches.

View to the South with Lake Eucumbene in the distance.

It was just before 12:00 so I went back down from the highest granite tor to the grassy field below to set-up. As I was unpacking, a familiar feature of the last 3 summits showed its face: hundreds of little black ants. They were everywhere and were really keen to walk on everything.

Francois helped me set-up and after about 10 minutes I was ready to go.

The shack on Mount Morgan.

I operated for about 45 minutes, making 10 contacts. After calling for about 5 minutes on 40 meters with no more responses, I packed up, took a few pictures and built a small SOTA cairn - add a rock next time when you are there. Just before we left I got a text message from Andrew VK1NAM who suggested we try to make a contact on 144 SSB - it was quick to get the rig and little yagi out and we had a great contact, very easy to copy regardless of being cross polarized at first.

SOTA Cairn
It was a great day with excellent weather and company - thank you Francois for coming along!

Contacts Made

Conditions were pretty ordinary on 40 meters. (That's an Aussie English euphemism for "conditions really sucked".) I did not have my link dipole antenna with me - it had broken the day before - and the quick and nasty 40m dipole I had made up couldn’t be adjusted for other bands. I had also forgotten the coax for the 2 meter yagi, which meant it couldn’t be mounted on the squid pole but I had to hold it up whenever I wanted to use it with the short coax pigtail.

I made a total of 11 contacts, three on 146.5 Simplex FM, seven on 7.09 SSB and one contact on 142.2 SSB. I managed four S2S contacts. A great big thank you to Tony VK1VIC who went to Mount Rob Roy and to Andrew VK1DA who was on Mount Mundoonen, both whom had gone out to summits to chase me on Mount Morgan. I managed a further S2S with Tony VK1VIC on 40 meters and also with Tony VK3CAT who was on Mount Little Joe in Victoria.

In summary, I made the following contacts:

Thank you for each contact!

Apology for missing everyone on 144.150 SSB

Unbeknownst to me, Andrew VK1DA sent an email to the VK1 Reflector to rustle up some 2 meter contacts because he knew that the propagation on 40 meters would be pretty ordinary - and that I would need every single contact on 2 meters to qualify the summit. Unfortunately he sent this email around 07:00 on Sunday morning and I did not know about it, having left home at 06:00. If I had, I would have called on 144.150 SSB as he had suggested in his email. Many thanks to Andrew who tried to help and sent that email, and also sorry to everyone who was on 144.150 SSB waiting for me to call there.

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads. From Canberra, drive south on Boboyan road. Take the Yaouk road and turn off to Kennedy’s road. Go past the old Yaouk homestead and after the next gate, turn left onto Lone Pine trail. There are a number of gates on Kennedy’s road and although the 2nd last one before Lone Pine Trail has a notice about locked gates and private property beyond that point, John Evans has assured me that the road itself is for public access. Mount Morgan is in Kosciusko National Park, VKFF-0269.

Summit Information

Mount Morgan’s summit is 1874 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 10 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44jg.
The huge summit consists of tussock grass, shrubs, rock slabs, granite tors and a few Snow Gums.
Mount Morgan is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater and I had Telstra mobile phone coverage.

Equipment Used

Yaesu FT817, Link dipole held up by a DX Wire squid pole and my improved Tape Measure Yagi for 2 meters.

Useful Links

GPS GPX Track Log and pictures: Dropbox Link.

Half Moon Peak - next time...

09 November 2015

20. SOTA Activation: Mount Gudgenby VK1/AC-009

On 25 October Andrew VK1NAM, Al VK1RX and I set off to have a go at Mount Gudgenby in the Namadgi National Park. I have had Gudgenby on the brain for a few months - it was one of the last few unactivated summits in VK1 and an 8-pointer to boot. I sent an email to the VK1 SOTA group and Andrew and Al decided to come along. I picked up Andrew and met Al at his house whereafter we set off down Boboyan road to Yankee Hat Car Park.

We arrived  just after 07:30 and set off with push bikes down the fire trails. Using bikes helped us cover the first 3.8 Km in 35 minutes. We left the bikes in the bush and picked up the little footpad trail to Gudgenby saddle. I read about this trail on John Evans' blog and we had no trouble finding it, where the fire trail veers away from Gudgenby. We made good progress and reached the Gudgenby saddle after 3.2 Km and 1 hour 25 minutes. We had a quick break in a clearing where feral pigs destroyed the forest floor looking for treats. It was unbelievable to see how they had ripped up an area roughly equivalent to 2 or 3 tennis courts.

Gudgenby peeking through the scrub

We started our ascent and, because the scrub wasn’t too bad, were making good progress. After about 1.2 Km and 1 hour 15 minutes, Andrew VK1NAM stopped and said that he was suffering from really bad stomach cramps, such that he could not continue. He would wait at that spot for Al and I to meet him when we returned form the summit. I asked Andrew if he would continue once he felt better, but he reminded me of one of the lessons from people surviving in the aussie bush: when you are in trouble stay put where you are, especially if people know where you are. It was a shame to loose Andrew, and Al and I continued, trying to return as fast as we could.

Andrew and Al - just after the Gudgenby saddle

As basis for navigation we used a GPX file from one of John Evans’ trips and it really helped with our navigation. Just after we left Andrew, Al and I ran into what surely counts as some of the thickest scrub I have run into on any summit so far. We continued to also run into vertical walls of rock where we had to find a way around. In one case we found a small slot to squeeze up and through, just wide enough for a person with a backpack. There were a lot of small dead gum trees, their trunks at odd angles blocking the way, as if someone had been playing “pick up sticks”. The only way to get through was to balance and walk on the horizontal trunks while weaving through and holding onto the horizontal ones.

Once clear of the scrub, we ran into our next level of challenges. Ahead of us was an unbroken slab of volcanic rock running up at an angle of about 30 to 35 degrees for about 60 meters. We scratched our heads a bit but in the end dropped on all fours and scrambled up, not looking back down. Low body position, steer clear of the lichen and keep on going. We reached a step in the rock plate where the angle flattened out for about 10 meters before it continued at a similar angle for a further 60 or 80 meters. We pushed on and ran out of rock with the summit cairn in sight.

Climb baby, climb!

This was a tricky bit we had to go up to make the summit. We had two alternative routes we could take and both was equally steep - about 10 meters of rock slanted at about 45 degrees with a narrow channel of moist soil and grass at the edge. Al tried the one on the right but after about 5 meters he scooted back down, not liking what he saw. We took the left-hand path by leaning forward, looking for footholds and clambering up to the summit. There was a slight decrease in the angle as we got higher, with the rock slowly flattening out. We had made it! It took us 59 minutes to climb the last  170 meters (distance of 880 meters) after we left Andrew to make the summit.

Gudgenby Summit and Cairn

Walking around we took in the sights for about 2 minutes before we started setting up. Gudgenby’s summit has many big tors laying about, most of these about 1.5 meters high and flat on top. The summit has a beautiful rock cairn with Trig point. Al and I each made a few contacts on 2 meters, Andrew was the first contact for both of us. Because Gudgenby is so high, we had great 2 meter coverage, and I had a really good contact with Andrew VK1MBE who was on Mount Gillamatong near Braidwood. We set up Andrew’s squid pole and link dipole antenna along with his FT817 (He passed all this kit to us when we left him to recover) ready to go. Just before we started operating on HF, Al and I decided to make one of the flat top tors our perch - we were trying to get away from swarms of small black ants. These little guys obviously don’t get out that often and were really excited by our arrival. They were crawling over absolutely everything: running up the suit pole, running down the coax, climbing into backpacks and crawling up our legs, arms, faces… You get the picture.

This was our operating perch - to get away from millions of black ants

Propagation conditions were pretty good. Our first call received a huge response with maybe the better part of about 20 callers responding at the same time. It was quite the pile-up. I have never experienced that before and after thinking about it, in future I will respond by first asking for Summit to Summit contacts, then mobiles and then proceed by callsign, first all VK1s, VK2s next etc. Not sure if this is fair but it may bring a bit of structure to the chaos - it is nigh impossible to know who called first, let alone note down every caller. Al and I continued for about 30 minutes before we packed up, snapped a few last pictures and bolted.

Going down was interesting. We managed to crab walk up the rock slab, but made our way down on our bums. Something to be said for a bit of padding in the rear. ;-) We bashed our way though the scrub and met up with Andrew who to much relief was feeling better. We returned the way we came, collected the bikes in the bush and enjoyed a well-deserved cup of hot tea with biscuits at the cars.

It was a great day and Gudgenby is an epic summit to enjoy. Pretty tough to get to but it's such a great spot that the effort was worth it. This is not a summit to attempt on your own unless you own a jet-pack. Thank you to Andrew and Al for your company!

The view to the North West

Contacts Made

I made a total of 22 contacts, including 7 S2S with Ian VK1DI, Andrew VK1MBE, Peter VK3PF, John VK2YW, Allen VK3HRA, Rob VK5CS and Tony VK1VIC.

Thank you for each contact!

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads. Drive to Yankee Hat Car Park via Boboyan road - turn off just after crossing the Gudgenby river.
Mount Gudgenby Mountain is located in the Namadgi National Park, VKFF-0377.

Summit Information

Mount Gudgenby’s summit is 1739 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 8 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44kf.
The summit consists of rock slabs, granite tors and a few small Snow Gums.
Mount Gudgenby is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Al and the summit cairn

Equipment Used

Andrew’s Yaesu FT817, Link dipole held up by a DX Wire squid pole.

Useful Links

GPS Track Log: Dropbox Link.

11 October 2015

19. SOTA Activation: Tidbinbilla Mountain VK1/AC-013

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve lies to the South West of Canberra. I’ve been there a few times before for short walks and taking family to look at Koalas in the Koala enclosure. When I looked at the SOTA Maps database, I saw that Tidbinbilla Mountain had not yet been activated, so I thought I may go and do that. I wasn’t too keen to scrub bash to the top alone, it’s always better to go with company, so in preparation for a later attempt I thought I might go and have a look at the peak to identify the best approach. As a back-up “in case”, I packed my radio gear in my bag as well: it would be a shame not to have it available if the ascent prove to be easier than anticipated.

I set out on Saturday 10 October just after 07:00 and parked at Mountain Creek Car park just after 08:00. The Tidbinbilla access booms were up so I had no trouble getting in to the reserve.
My plan was to base my recon on GPX files from John Evans (Link). First I would look at a direct approach, via the South East, starting with the Lyre Bird trail, then traveling up the ridge line.
I only wanted to see how dense the bush was on this side, before I would go back down to Mountain Creek Car Park and take the Camels Hump Trail up for a bit to see what that approach was like.

It was a beautiful, crisp morning. The fresh smell of the bush was beautiful, it’s difficult to describe but it is just perfect. I wish I could bottle that and have it around all the time!

On my way to the Lyrebird Trail

I took the Lyrebird trail and in no time I stood next to the point where I thought I might break away from the trail at some future date when I would take on Tidbinbilla Mountain. The problem was… there was little scrub to observe. It was very open and easy to travel over, so thinking that this could not be representative of the whole ascent I decided to head into the bush for about 100 or 200 meters, just to take a look.

Nice walking track up the ridge line to Snowy Corner

I headed uphill, but the first 100 meters or so didn’t bring any thick scrub. Following along John Evans’ GPX track, I also stumbled onto a walking trail, straight as an arrow up the ridge line. I learned later from Andrew VK1NAM that he read about such a trail, and that it was well traveled up to the bush fires in 2003. The track may not have seen frequent use recently but it was still very easy to make out and it was marked intermittently by either rock cairns or by yellow bands tied around thin saplings.

Having found the trail and not encountering much scrub, I decided to push on for an hour or so to see what conditions were further uphill, before I’d turn around. At this point I got in contact with Andrew VK1NAM via the Ginini repeater and told him about the track I had found. He explained that the he had read about it and that the yellow bands were most likely left by John Evans during an earlier ascent. I informed him of my intent to go for another hour or so before turning around, and he offered to listen out on Ginini for my report.

Gradually the trail got steeper, the terrain a mixture of small saplings, low fern, a few logs and rocks. At one spot I ran into a few thorny little bushes, reaching up to my shoulders. Nasty little plants, I am glad that is all I saw of them. Most of the walking so far had been under tree cover, but after a short and steep ascent I found myself in a clearing with the first hint at the views still too come. A varied on a bit further up the track and found that a very kind soul had carried a little bench uphill and left it there, for everyone to enjoy. I sat down and enjoyed the view across Tidbinbilla Valley.

Best perch ever, left on the trail by a kind soul.

Sitting here, and making good progress, I thought I might continue uphill some more too see what conditions were like where John Evans’ track makes a 90 degree turn to the North North East. So far the track has steadily been going in a direction slightly North of West North West (302 degrees true). I thought this point would reveal the nature of the beast and that the track would run out at this point.

Sure enough, even before this point I started running into wattle regrowth, although the walking track made it no trouble at all. The wattle regrowth reached up between 1.5 to 3.5 meters at certain places. The rock cairns and yellow bands still marked the trail and despite the regrowth it was easy to follow.

Wattle regrowth made much easier by the trail.

The climb got pretty steep at places but there were always small saplings at hand for pulling up on. Right at the top of the climb I found a fairly big cairn, probably marking the top of that ridge and this looked like the spot where John Evans’ track turned 90 degrees right. This was also the end of the steep climb: the terrain flattened out considerably. It was also the end of the trail. This is where I planned to turn around. In a small clearing I could make out Tidbinbilla Mountain’s summit for the first time and although it was still a substantial climb, it was much closer than before.

I decided to go for the summit, it was only 11:30 and I had daylight to about 19:30. Andrew VK1NAM called me over the Ginini repeater and I told him I am going to go for the summit. Right off the bat progress got slower. The wattle scrub gave way again to taller saplings and these were much denser than before. The easiest path was to rock hop right on the ridge line, at least the trees couldn’t grow on rocks!

Boulder Highway leading through the scrub.

After about 30 minutes of scrub bashing and rock hopping, I found the biggest clearing so far. Probably about 50 meters wide by 80 meters long of short yellow grass and a few small shrubs. This spot would be an ideal place to retreat to if you ever ran into trouble on the hill. A helicopter would be able to land without too much trouble, even though there is a bit of a slope, it is no more than about 5% to 10%. From the clearing I could clearly see Tidbinbilla Mountain, and also that there were no more clearings between here and the summit. Scrub bashing all the way. I tightened the backpack straps and set off.

Nice big clearing with the summit behind it.

Just after entering the bush again I ran into a vertical rock wall with a small channel that I could scramble up. At the base there were a pile of rocks that weren’t super stable so scrambled up as quick as I could.

Rock Wall

After another 15 minutes the growth got shorter and after scrambling up a few rocks I was at the top. It was hard work but definitely worth it. Killer views all round. I let rip a whoop of joy and took my pack off, unfurled the Tape Measure Beam and connected it to the Baofeng UV-5R handheld. I was ready to activate. As I reached for my logbook I saw that my Tidbinbilla shack was being overrun by legions of small black ants and relocated to another rock - where they followed…

The Summit Cairn!! If you can't see it look for the white pile of rocks between two bushes on the horizon.
In the back of my mind was the “possible thundershowers in the late afternoon” and I could see a cell moving towards Cotter Hill, 6 or 7 Km to the North. I was going to try and be as quick as possible and then get out of there.

Contacts Made

About 15 minutes before I reached the summit, Al VK1RX who was on Webs Ridge announced that he was busy packing up and needed to get off Webs Ridge because there was rain on the way and the fire trails could be pretty slippery even at the best of times. Al stuck around on the summit when I told him I would be at the top soon, so my first contact was with Al. An easy 5/9 both ways. Thanks for hanging around on the summit Al!

Next I worked Ian VK1DI and when I could receive a whole transmission it was an easy 5/9 again, in both directions. Something strange was going on - even though I wasn’t moving around, and beaming straight to Woden Towers, I often lost whole chunks of Ian’s overs. There was a ridge (I think it is Tidbinbilla Peak) between me and parts of canberra and that may have played a part in scattering the signal.

Tidbinbilla Peak with the white dot of Woden Towers next to the summit on the right.

After Ian,  I worked Matt VK1MA and that too was an easy 5/9+ both ways. At one point Matt said the meter peaked at 5/9 + 60db - I must have had a nice unobstructed line of sight to him.

To qualify the summit activation, my forth call was with Andrew VK1NAM from his QTH in Lyons. This is close to the Woden Tower and I beamed through the notch between the two peaks of Tidbinbilla Peak. This was an easy 5/9+ copy. Andrew told me that Grant VK4JAZ and Tony VK1VIC was also trying to make a contact with me, so I tried to call Grant.

At first I could hear nothing, then only small fragments. Mat VK1MA suggested I try the rubber ducky antenna to rule out coax issues so I swapped to the Baofeng’s rubber ducky antenna but the results were the same. I could not copy Grant. Andrew VK1NAM came back and informed me that he could hear Grant saying that he could read me. I walked around the summit trying to find a better spot but it was no good.

I called Tony VK1VIC a few times and then managed to have a complete contact with him. We exchanged a 5/3 from me to Tony and 5/9 from Tony to me. The better spot turned out to be flat on my stomach on a rock - the only place where I could hear Tony from.

At the end of my over with Tony I could hear Grant’s “VK4JAZ” clearly. Grant had gone up halfway Mount Ainslie for the contact and his signal was now getting out to me. I could easily make out Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie from Tidbinbilla Mountain. We exchanged a 5/8 from me to Grant and a 5/6 from Grant to me.

I could hear rumbles behind me and I felt the wind rush towards the low pressure cell opposite the valley. It was time to pack up.

Time to pack up...

After putting everything away Matt VK1MA told me that Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH was in the shack and trying to make contact. We tried for about 3/4 minutes, horizontal, vertical and me moving around the summit. Andrew could hear me, Matt told me, but I just couldn’t hear him.

I clipped on the HT to my pack, started the GPS and headed downhill towards Tidbinbilla Peak and Camels Hump, in the opposite direction that I had come from.

Summary of Contacts

Thank you Al, Ian, Matt, Andrew, Tony and Grant for every contact!

The Way Down

I chose to come down in the opposite direction I had come up, in the direction of Camels Hump, because I thought that way intersected pretty early on with the Camels Hump trail. As basis for navigation I used another of John Evans’ GPX tracks. It went via Tidbinbilla Peak and then turned South East along the ridge line until it intersected with the Camels Hump Fire Trail. The first part wasn’t too bad with fairly open parts, mixed with some light scrub bashing. Here and there I could follow John Evans’ trail and that made the scrub much easier. The track followed the ridge line to Tidbinbilla Peak so there was quite bit of rock hopping between the scrub bashing. At some points the scrub was just ridiculously dense - it stopped me in my tracks and I had to heave forward to get moving again.

The next stand of scrub awaits!

Every clearing rewarded the hard work with beautiful views on both sides of the ridge. Good news too about the weather: the storm cell was well-behaved and stayed north of me all the time during my descent. A highlight was definitely the two Wedgetail Eagles that popped in for a quick “Hallo”. They were no more than 10 meters away from me at times, hovering above me in the breeze coming off the ridge. At one point I was convinced I heard a horse but that could just be my imagination - I don’t think there are any Brumbies in Tidbinbilla.

Coming down from Tidbinbilla Peak, the view towards Camels Hump.

The trek down was tedious stuff. I went super slow as there was no track to follow and I wanted to stay on John Evans’ track as per his GPX file - they made it out alive after all! ;-)
At one point on the hill I ran into more thick stands of  saplings. Where they had been benign coming up Tidbinbilla Mountain, now they were positively feral. The stands were so thick that my backpack and beam snagged at every step. Usually on these treks I carry gloves to fend of the scrub but since this was intended as a “quick recon” I didn’t have those with me. Imagine being surrounded by a forest of small saplings, trunk diameter about 20mm. They press against your body on every side so that you have to push them aside firmly to take a step. They do not bend as readily as the Wattle scrub. At one point I shook my backpack loose and continued downward. Only later when I reached the fire trail did I realise that the shaking had opened my backpack such that I lost my new DX Wire squid pole. Not happy Jan.

A few times Andrew VK1NAM called in to check on my progress. Instead of waiting to catch my breath, I immediately responded on the HT. This made my transmissions hard to copy. Note to self: Don’t respond immediately but first catch your breath!

Fire Trail.. You beauty!

Once I reached the fire trail it was like a 6-lane highway. I stormed the last 1.8 Km in about 26 minutes.  To cap the day off, as I rounded a corner of the fire trail, I saw a dark bird dash across the trail. Its body about 1 meter in length as it stretched its legs to get across, followed by its tail, about the same length as its body. It looked like the tail was striped. Superb Male Lyrebird. Beautiful. The perfect end to the day.

When I got to the car, I ripped off my shoes - my feet were knackered! I drank down the extra liter of water I keep in the car, had a handful of nuts and hit the road.

It was a hard trip, especially the return via Tidbinbilla Peak and Camels’ hump “track”. Although the Southern Ascent via Lyrebird trail, the ridge line trail and Snowy’s Corner is very steep at places, I think that route is the better one of the two. There are some scrub and rock hopping but for most of the time you have a clear trail. This is how I would come up and down next time.

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads. Drive towards the South of Canberra on the Tuggeranong Parkway, go across the Point Hut Crossing and turn right at Tidbinbilla road. Tidbinbilla is on the left after a few Km.
Tidbinbilla Mountain is located in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, VKFF-0989.

Summit Information

Tidbinbilla Mountain’s summit is 1605 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 6 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44kn.
The summit consists of white rock slabs and small shrubs. There is only one gum sapling but it will be able to hold up a squid pole.
Tidbinbilla Mountain is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Note about the SOTA Mapping Project’s summit name:
On the SOTAMAPS.ORG website, the coordinates for VK1/AC-013 refers to the location of Tidbinbilla Mountain but use the name “Tidbinbilla Peak”. VK1AC/013 is identified as Tidbinbilla Mountain on the NSW LPMA Tidbinbilla Map. Both OzTopo and the LPMA Map identifies a second, lower hill as Tidbinbilla Peak, its summit height is given as 1561 and 1562 meters respectively by LPMA and OzTopo. It looks like the SOTAMAPS entry for Tidbinbilla Mountain was accidentally named Tidbinbilla Peak.

Equipment Used

Baofeng UV-5R, internal battery, rubber ducky antenna and my VHF Tape Measure Yagi.
On the way up and down the tape measure yagi took a beating. The scrub folded the elements back on itself (even though it was already folded down in travelling position, strapped down with velcro straps and inside two old socks), permanently deforming the antenna’s spring steel elements.

Useful Links

GPS GPX Track Log: Dropbox Link.

08 October 2015

18. SOTA Activation: Mount Tennent VK1/AC-025

Mount Tennent is pretty big and it dominates the horizon when you get close to the south of Canberra. I have wanted to walk up the hill for a while and got the chance to do so on Friday 2 October. I was fortunate enough to be joined by one of my mates, Anton, and together we set-off for the trek after parking at the Namadgi Visitor’s Centre just outside of Tharwa. Kudos to Anton for all the pics in this post - great job mate, especially on the panoramas!

The first part of the track takes you from the visitor’s centre, across Boboyan road to the foot of Mount Tennent where you start to climb. It gets pretty steep at places and rightly deserves the “stair master 301” moniker, as suggested by Andrew VK1DA. A large part of the track is taken up by stair climbing, be it natural rock or formed soil steps.

Stair Master 301. Much of the way is like this.

The first stop at the Cypress Pine lookout hints at the views to come. There is also a log bench and stone table to use if you wanted to brew a cuppa. We left the lookout and continued on the trail that gradually became steeper until we reached one of the only flat parts of the climb. Walking away from the trail towards the eastern edge rewarded us with really nice views over the south of Canberra.

View from the Cypress Pine Lookout

We continued along the trail and ran into a T-junction with an interesting sign: Booroomba Rocks 7.5 Km to the right, Mount Tennent Summit 2.5 Km to the left. In future I might come back to this trail, activate Mount Tennent and then carry on to Booroomba Rocks that is also a SOTA Summit. The trip would be a bit too long for a single day activation but one could camp at the Honeysuckle Creek campsite that is very close to Booroomba rocks.

Spring has sprung.

We headed further uphill, passing a big tree that had blown over in a clearing and then picked up the fire trail that headed to the summit. It was about another 1 Km to go on the fire trail and we arrived at the summit.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, no wind, no clouds, and not too warm. About 26 degrees C. Perfect. I set up my station close to the fire lookout and posted a SOTA Spot - no problems with mobile coverage from Mount Tennent.

Before I started calling CQ, I took a few minutes to enjoy the views. From the summit one can look down onto the Canberra Deep Space Radio Telescopes opposite Tidbinbilla in the North. It is easy to make out Black Mountain and Canberra to the North West. On the horizon I could clearly see the 4 humps of One Tree Hill, VK1/AC-035, about 45 Km to the North. Looking into the Namadgi National Park one can see many of the SOTA peaks there, including Ginini and Gingera.

The view from the top - overlooking Canberra. Canberra DSN Left. Black Mountain and Mt Taylor in the middle. Mt. Majura to the right. One Tree Hill on the horizon, one third from the left.

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads. Drive towards the South of Canberra on the Tuggeranong Parkway and continue on to Tharwa on Tharwa drive.
Just after the bridge over the Murrumbidgee River, turn left on Naas road for a few kilometres to reach the Namadgi National Park Visitor’s Centre. Mount Tennent is located in the Namadgi National Park, VKFF-0377.

Summit Information

Mount Tennet’s summit is 1384 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 4 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44mk.
There are a few small trees and shrubs around and few convenient rocks. I tied my squid pole to a small tree that was enough to keep it upright. Mount Tennent is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Equipment Used

FT817 powered by a Zippy 4S LifePo battery.
Dx Wire Squid Pole with Link Dipole and my VHF Tape Measure Yagi.

The Shack on Mt. Tennent.

Contacts Made

I started calling CQ on 40 meters as I was waiting for Andrew VK1NAM to arrive on Mount Ainslie for a summit-to-summit contact. I was answered immediately by Amanda VK3FQSO, followed by Gerard VK2IO. Gerard reported some QSB and at one point we lost a whole over due to fading. I noticed Andrew VK1NAM’s self-spot on 2 meters and changed to 146.500 FM for a contact with him. Andrew told me that Tony VK1VIC/P was out and about and I had a quick QSO with Tony as well. Before signing off 2 meters, I also had a nice QSO with Dmitri VK2COW in Gundaroo. Dmitri was running 0.5 Watt but I had no trouble copying him, giving him a 5/9 report.

Something was up with propagation conditions because next when I contacted Andrew VK2UH on 40 meters, I got a 4/2 report from him in Yass. After I worked Andrew, I had a summit-to-summit contact with Glen VK3YY on Talbot VK3/VT-010. This was a pretty difficult contact and Glen had to repeat his call sign at least 3/4 times before I could make it out. I gave Glen a 4/1 report and received a 3/1 in return. Conditions weren’t too flash. The next contact I made was with Peter VK3PF, who was on Mount Delusion VK3/VG/026 in East Gippsland. This was slightly easier with an exchange of 5/3 and 5/2 sent and received. Next I worked Trevor VK3FPSR - he was an easy copy (I gave him a 5/7) but it must have been pretty hard for him to hear me as I only got a 3/1.

I sent a text to Roald VK1MTS to see if he was around for a quick QSO and managed to get him in Gungahlin, close to One Tree Hill that was 45 km away. Roald had the HT but that was no trouble at all and we exchanged a 5/8 and 5/9 sent and received respectively.

After catching up with Roald I returned to 40 meters and had contacts with Mick VK3PMG/P who was in Green Lake Regional Park VKFF-967, Phil VK2HPN, Guy VK3GUY and Fred VK3DAC.
Most of these guys were an easy 5/6 or 5/8 copy for me but with the exception of Mick VK3PMG/P, they all gave me a 4/1 or 5/2.

Summary of Contacts

Thank you to the Shack Sloths and the Goats for every contact!

Useful Links

VK1NAM Blog Mt. Tennent: https://vk1nam.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/winter-bonus-mt-tennent-12-september-2014/
VK1DA Blog Mt. Tennent: http://vk1da.net/blog/2014/09/15/mt-tennent-activation-12-sept-2014/

07 October 2015

17. SOTA Activation: Webs Ridge, Dingi Dingi Range and Baldy Ridge (VK2/ST-005, VK2/ST-004 and VK2/ST-008)

Webs Ridge VK2/ST-005

Andrew 1NAM was about to make 1000 SOTA Points and become a SOTA Goat, when at the same time, Andrew 1DA was about to pass 500 SOTA points. For the occasion, the Andrews arranged to have the 4th contact from two SOTA summits with each other, thereby passing the 500 and 1000 point mark with their QSO. On the 26th of September 2015 Andrew 1NAM went up to his favourite SOTA summit, Mt. Gingera and was accompanied by Al VK1RX. I joined Andrew 1DA on Webs Ridge located in the Brindabella National Park (VKFF-005).

We made our way to Webs Ridge via Brindabella road, where we turned onto Two Sticks road at Piccadilly Circus. From Two sticks road, we turned onto the Dingi Dingi Ridge fire trail, driving west, past Dingi Dingi Range to Webs Ridge. The road was pretty rocky and steep at places - the low range in Andrew’s Land Cruiser sure came in handy. (I’d recommend having the summits as waypoints on a GPS when trying to find the correct roads/fire trails - there aren’t many signposts.)

When we were near the summit, we parked on the side of the fire trail and found a clear spot to set-up. While we were operating, two cars passed us on the fire trail.

Andrew VK1DA on Webs Ridge

My first contacts were with Andrew VK1NAM, Al VK1RX and Matt VK1MA on 2 meters. Andrew 1DA made his 4th contact with Andrew 1NAM and there were whoops of joy over the radio as Andrew 1NAM made 1000 SOTA points. For the occasion Andrew 1DA found a funny sound clip of a bleating goat and played it a few times over the air, drawing chuckles all round.
There were a lot of people congratulating Andrew 1NAM on making SOTA Goat, and Andrew 1DA and I enjoyed listening to the backslapping for a few minutes on HF.

We started calling CQ on 40 meters using Andrew 1DA’s Icom 703, and in quick tag-team succession worked 20 stations in 30 minutes, passing the mic back and forth. The propagation that had been depressed for a few weeks, improved quite a bit and we got good contacts from VK1, VK2, VK3, VK5 and VK7.

My first three HF contacts were summit-to-summits, with Russ VK2BJP on Black Mountain VK3/VE-093, Gerard VK2IO on Canoelands VK2/SY-001, followed by Peter 3PF on Mount Toorongo Range VK3/VT-026. Next we had a bunch of chasers working from their shacks, including: Ray VK3YAR, Peter VK3ZPF, Glen VK3YY, John VK2WG, Fred VK3DAC, Amanda VK3FQSO, Lee VK2LEE, Rod VK2LAX, Cliff VK2NP, Bernard VK2AV, Ken VK3UH, Paul VK2HV, Coll VK3LED, Compton VK2HRX, Matt VK1MA, Tony VK7LTD and Tom VK5EE. I jumped back on the 2 meter rig (FT817 with Tape Measure Yagi) and worked Andrew VK1NAM/P and Al VK1RX/P again after the UTC switchover. I also had a summit to summit contact with Rod VK2TWR who was on Byadbo Range VK2/SM-066 and closed with Ian VK1DI and Mark VK1EM.

This was a great start to a great day. We spent about an hour on the summit and I had 28 contacts to show for it. We packed up and headed back down the Dingi Dingi Fire trail towards Dingi Dingi Ridge for our second activation of the day.

Dingi Dingi Ridge VK2/ST-004

Dingi Dingi Ridge summit is about 750 meters from Dingi Dingi fire trail. We parked on the side of the fire trail and headed uphill, "enjoying" some scrub bashing as we made our way by using Andrew 1NAM’s GPX file from an earlier activation. The bush was pretty thick at times, so much so that I lost the lower half of my hiking pole. When the scrub got really thick, I collapsed it but forgot to lock the lower half. The collapsed hiking pole dangled around my wrist as we pushed upward and the basket must have snagged in the brush, pulling out and dropping to the ground. I only realised this once we stopped at the summit in a clearing. (When we returned I tried to retrace my steps but the brush was just too thick to see the lost hiking pole. (If anybody finds two green hiking pole segments on Dingi Dingi Range, please send it my way for a reward!)

We found a pretty nice clearing near the summit and set-up our stations. I set up a squid pole with tape measure VHF beam connected to my FT817 and Andrew rolled out his HF link dipole connected to his Icom 703.

My Shack on Dingi Dingi Ridge

First we worked Andrew VK1NAM and Al VK1RX on the 2 meter HT, who were on their way down Mount Gingera. We switched to HF and worked some VK1, VK2 and VK3 stations on 40 meters. Our first four HF contacts were summit-to-summits with Compton VK2HRX who was on Mount Banks VK2/CT-032, Peter VK3PF who was on Mount Selma VK3/VT-013, Rod VK2TWR who was on an unnamed hill VK2/SM-071 and Gerard VK2IO who was still on Canoelands VK2/SY-001. We moved on to chasers who were working from their shacks and worked Amanda VK3FQSO, Rex VK3OF, Doug VK3YQS, John VK2YW, Coll VK3LED, VK3FJOS, Matt VK1MA, Steve VK7CW, Fred VK3DAC, Paul VK3DBP, Peter VK3FPSR, Marshall VK3MRG, Ray VK3YAR, Ken VK3UH, Kieran VK2QK, Peter VK3ZPF and Bernard VK3AV.

I moved to the 2 meter rig and worked Phil VK2HPN, Malcolm VK1AAH and Paul VK1ATP on 2 meters.

During the QSO with Paul 1ATP, Andrew asked if I could get Matt VK1MA on the repeater because Peter VK3PF had an emergency and required some assistance. Matt has a good 40 meter home station and Andrew thought this would help coordinate any help that would be required. I got Matt and handed the HT to Andrew, and they spoke for a while about what had happened. Peter VK3PF’s car had suddenly caught fire as he was out on a SOTA activation trip. In the end Peter was assisted by another operator. You can read Peter’s account here: https://vk3pf.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/an-unpleasant-surprise-during-a-day-of-sota/

After listening to the messages passed back and forth to assist Peter 3PF, we packed up and walked back down Dingi Dingi Range. I tried to follow our upwards track in reverse, hoping that I would spot the hiking pole but was unable to do so.

The bush on Dingi Dingi Ridge. Can anyone spot a green hiking pole?

Back at the car we went down Dingi Dingi Range on our way to Baldy Range. We were in quite a rush as we wanted to work Andrew 1NAM and Al 1RX who were on Mount Ginger Ale and would be there only for another 20 minutes.

Baldy Range VK2/ST-008

We turned onto Baldy Range Trail and covered the 6 Km just in time. We parked next to the fire trail and walked around the summit, with the Handy Talkies (HT) calling for Andrew and Al.
Andrew 1DA found a spot where there was just enough signal and managed to work Andrew 1NAM. He handed his Icom HT to me and as I was working Andrew 1NAM the battery died. I switched to my Baofeng HT, attached the tape measure Yagi and started calling. Andrew 1DA was an excellent antenna mount as he held the beam aloft as we walked around trying to find a spot where we could work Al 1RX and Andrew 1NAM. I barely managed to get Al 1RX as he was right in the noise and hard to copy.

Having worked them, we returned to our packs and started to set-up our stations. Again I set up the FT817 with VHF beam and Andrew 1DA set-up his Icom 703 and link dipole. On two meters I worked Mark VK1EM and Ian VK1DI before joining Andrew on the HF rig. Again we tag-teamed it, passing the mic between us and bagged a bunch of VK1, VK2, VK3 and VK5 operators.

The two Shacks on Baldy Range. Andrew VK1DA working 20m DX into Europe. See video below.

I worked Mark VK1EM again on HF and then a number of other callers, most of which who also chased us on the previous two summits: Amanda VK3FQSO, Gerard VK2IO who were still on Canoelands VK2/SY-001, Peter VK3ZPF, Bernard VK3AV, Matt VK1MA, Fred VK3DAC, Ross VK2VVV, Lee VK2LEE, Gary VK2GAZ, Mark VK3XL, Nev VK5WG, Mick VK3PMG, Jim VK1AT, Peter VK3TKK, Paul VK5PAS and Gary VK5FGRY. I made one more contact on 2 meters, with Jim VK1AT.

We made our way back to civilization via Doctors Flat Road, much better than Baldy Range Trail and Two Sticks Road, although it had 5 or 6 cattle gates to open and close.

Thoughts on Dual Operation

I have come to like this way of operating - sharing a single station and tag-teaming between callers, sharing the mic - as it is efficient and give chasers two unique call signs on the summit. The added benefit for me is that I learn heaps by seeing how Andrew deal with multiple simultaneous callers and balances first callers against portable stations. It is an art and his 50+ years of experience shows how it should be done. The basic rules I observed seemed to be:

  1. Acknowledge every caller that you can copy in the sequence they have called in and explain the sequence in which you will respond.
  2. Start with the portable / summit to summit stations first because they are not in their shacks and may run out of electricity, light etc.
  3. Move on to the other stations, in the order that they have called in.
  4. If you could only copy a partial call sign, use that when addressing the station and ask them to call again.
  5. Don’t dawdle. Don’t talk about your operation or the weather. Exchange a signal report, a name and other pertinent information before moving on to the next station. Sure a nice QSO could follow later if you wanted to describe your station or the landscape but do so when the pile-up has cleared. The number of chasers you loose from a queue is proportional to the average length of your QSOs.
  6. Listen for other callers before you start speaking. It is easy to miss out on valuable summit to summit contacts if you have a string of unbroken overs.
  7. When you have reached the end of the list, call CQ again and listen.

Thoughts on Activating Clusters of SOTA Summits

Apart from the obvious efficiency of leaving home once and activating multiple summits, it appears that cluster activations tend to guarantee chasers for all the summits, especially if they are alerted on SOTAWatch - or advertised when woking chasers. If a chaser is worked on one summit, and he/she knows about upcoming activations, it is very likely that they would work you again when you get to the new summits. Cluster activations also seem to spark additional activity from fellow activators, almost as if activity begets activity. Your mileage may vary but I am definitely a fan of activating clusters of 2/3/4 summits on a day. Four gets a bit much if there is bush walking involved, three summits seem to be the magic number.

On the day I made 75 contacts with 46 unique stations. Thanks again to Andrew 1DA for his excellent company.

Andrew VK1DA Europe DX on 20 Meters

After we worked everyone on 40 meters, Andrew switched to 20 meters to see what conditions were like. Perhaps he could pull off a few DX contacts with the improved propagation. It was getting close to sunset and the gray line magic jump started the band as it came alive. For about 30 or 40 minutes, Andrew could not move as he was pulling in contacts from the UK, Germany, Finland, Hungary etc. I have not seen a pile-up like that before and I recorded a few minutes of it on my phone. Have a look at what 10 Watts, good propagation and an experienced operator can achieve. Who needs 400 Watts for DX?! ;-)

If for any reason you cannot see the video, please download it here.

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads.
Webs Ridge, Dingi Dingi Ridge and Baldy Range are all located in the Brindabella National Park, VKFF-005. Keep a look out for park warnings here: NSW Park Alerts

Summit Information

Webs Ridge summit is 1306 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 8 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44jr.
There are many trees and shrubs around and a few small clearings where you could set-up.
Webs Ridge is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Ding Dingi Ridge summit is 1311 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 8 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44jr.
A bit of scrub bashing is required to reach the summit,  after parking near the fire trail. The bush is pretty dense but there are a few clearings where you could set-up your station.
Ding Dingi Ridge is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Baldy Range summit is 1235 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 8 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44js.
The summit has a fire track running across it. There are quite a few trees and shrubs around, the most convenient clearing for set-up would be next to the trail.
Baldy Range is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Contacts Made

Thank you to the Shack Sloths and the Goats for every contact!

Useful Links

Brindabella National Park: http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/brindabella-national-park
GPS GPX Track Log: Dropbox Link.
VK1NAM Blog Webs Ridge: https://vk1nam.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/vk-sota-qso-webbs-ridge/
VK1NAM Blog Dingi Dingi: https://vk1nam.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/sota-activation-dingi-dingi-ridge-9-january-2014/
VK1DI Blog Baldy Range: http://vk1di.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/sota-activation-baldy-range-vk2st-008.html
Video Download Link: Dropbox.

06 October 2015

16. SOTA Activation: Big Badja Hill and Bald Mountain VK2/SM-059 and VK2/SM052 (20 September 2015)

Big Badja Hill

I accompanied Andrew VK1DA on an activation of Big Badja and Bald Mountain near Cooma. We met up at Gold Creek Maccas and then had a relaxed drive down the B23 via Michelago, Bredbo and Cooma.

The Cooma - Numeralla road is in pretty good nick.

Upon entering Cooma, we turned onto a dirt road towards Numeralla. After about 60 Km, we turned onto the Big Badja Fire Trail for about 1.5 Km and pulled up at a clearing in the forest, near the summit of Big Badja Hill. There is a nice footpath from the clearing to the summit (about 150m) that took us about 10 minutes to walk up.

VK1DA's Magic Carpet parked in the clearing on Big Badja Hill

After setting up my new DX-Wire 10m Mini Squid Pole and mounting my VHF 3 element Tape Measure Yagi at 4 meters, I also brought out my gentleman’s activation station (Helinox Chair One, Helinox Camp Table). These beauties have attracted a fair bit of attention, and rightly so: they are sturdy and light. I happily carry the extra 1.5 Kg along to a summit so that I can sit in comfort with my rear end, FT817 and log book off the ground. At 1.3Kg, the DX-Wire 10m Mini Squid Pole is 300 grams heavier than the Haverfords Squid Poles I have used so far, but it collapses to about 60 cm and fits inside my back-pack - ideal when you go scrub bashing.

The Gentleman's Station with Table and Chair on Big Badja Hill

Our first contacts were with Andrew VK1NAM and Tony VK1VIC on Mount Majura on 2 meters. Then things slow right down and it was more than half an hour before I made another contact, this time with Steve VK2NSS on 2 meters. Propagation conditions were really bad on HF and we were out of mobile phone cover. I had also forgotten to ask Andrew, Tony or Steve to post a spot for us on Sotawatch. After trying HF again, I finally managed to qualify the summit through a contact with Al, VK7AN in Tassie, followed shortly by Jock, VK2EJW in Gunnada, NSW.

Andrew had also just qualified the summit, and we had to get to our next summit, Bald Mountain, so we packed up and were out of there. During the activation, three bush walkers joined us on the summit and we spent a few minutes explaining what was going on.

SOTA Ambassador 1DA Engaging in Foreign Relations

Bald Mountain

We walked back to Andrew’s magic carpet (the Cruiser’s ride is super plush) and headed back down Big Badja Fire trail, returning the same way we had come up.
As the radio signals fly, Mount Bald is about 8 Km North West of Big Badja Hill. From the Big Badja fire trail, we turned left onto the road to Cooma, and then after a few hundred meters, we turned right onto Slap-up Road that lead us to the summit of Bald Mountain.

Near the summit, we parked by the side of the road and walked the last 100m or so to the summit. I do not know where Bald Mountain got its name from but it is definitely not bald. There are heaps of trees all round the perimeter of the summit, with a big tower in e clearing in the middle. This summit reminded me somewhat of Mount Cowangerong.
The equipment on Bald Hill is pretty noisy (RF), and created a bunch of birdies on 40 meters, about 2-4 KHz wide.

Bald Mountain Stations: Andrew 1DA in the Background and my station next to the cage

The HF Propagation issues dissipated and, using Andrew’s Icom 706 (10 Watt) and Link Dipole, we found ourselves at the receiving end of a pile-up on 40 meters.
In about 7 busy minutes, we each made 14 contacts, passing the mic between us. Andrew going first, then telling the other station to stand by before handing the mic to me.

Our first station was Gerard VK2IO, followed by Tony VK3CAT. Next we worked Steve VK7CW, Mark VK2AMS and Rex VK4RF, followed by Paul VK5PAS, Coll VK3LED, Rex VK4HA, Mick VK3PMG and Ron VK3VBI. The HF rush came to an end after we worked Nick VK3ANL, Andrew VK3BQ, Ron VK3AFW and Adam VK2YK.

I made one last 2 meter contact with Andrew 1NAM while he was still on Mount Majura. It was tough going - we were cross polarized and had Gourock in the way but we managed to just get it done.

Andrew 1DA sampling the gentleman's station

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads.
Big Badja Hill is in Deua National Park and Bald Mountain is in Gourock National Park.

Summit Information

Big Badja Hill’s summit is 1362 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 8 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF43sx.
The summit has a small clearing, a trig beacon and many small shrubs that like to snag on squid pole guy lines (especially builder’s twine). The trig point can be used to support a squid pole.

Bald Mountain’s summit is 1469 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 8 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44sb.
On top of the summit there is a clearing, a trig point, a fenced off tower and shipping container and a bunch of trees around the perimeter. The trig point or the tower’s fence posts can be used to support a squid pole.

View from Big Badja Hill

We drove back towards Canberra via Braidwood and had to pull in at the bakery for a pie (we just managed to make it before closing time).

Pastie and Coffee in Braidwood's Bakery

Contacts Made

Thank you for every contact!

Useful Links

Deua National Park: http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Deua-National-Park
Gourock National Park: http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Gourock-National-Park
GPS GPX Track Log: Dropbox Link.
VK1NAM Blog: https://vk1nam.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/sota-activation-big-badja-hill-and-bald-mountain/
VK1DI Blog Big Badja: http://vk1di.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/sota-vk2sm-059-big-badja-hill.html
VK1DI Bald Mountain: http://vk1di.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/sota-vk2sm-052-bald-mountain.html

16 September 2015

15. SOTA Activation: Prairie Dog Hill VK1/AC-039 (17 May 2015)

Andrew VK1NAM proposed to activate VK1/AC045 Prairie Dog Hill to the VK1_SOTA Mailing Group. I signed up and joined him on the 13th of September.

We drove out to the Ororral Tracking Station parking lot in the Ororral Valley and headed out towards Prairie Dog Hill around 07:30.

Prairie Dog Hill from Ororral Valley

It was a beautiful crisp morning and there was no wind. We reached the turnoff into the bush after about 90 minutes, having averaged about 3.4 Km/h over the 5.15 Km of vehicle tracks.

Initially there was very little Wattle scrubs to bash through so the going was fairly easy for the first 750 meters, over short grass, fern and gum trees. Gradually the slope increased and the scrub appeared.

Then our speed dropped way down to about 15 minutes per 100m. Not only was there wattle to wade through, similar to that of Ororral Hill, but we also had to make our way over or round huge granite tors.

We spent 90 minutes on the first 5.2 Km and then another 86 minutes on the last 1.7 Km, so about 3 hours from the Ororral car park to the top, 6.9 Km in total. By comparison, on our return trip, we did the scrub bashing bit in 78 minutes and the bit on the road in 79 minutes, for a total return trip time of 2 hours 38 minutes.

We were on the summit slightly after our advertised alert but we got going and called CQ at 10:35, about 30 minutes later than what we intended.

Cotter Hut Road

Turn off from Cotter Hut Road into the bush

I am disappearing in the Wattle scrub

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads and Prairie Dog Hill is on Commonwealth land.

Summit Information

Prairie Dog Hill summit is 1330 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 2 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44kj.

The summit consists of one big flat granite plate, with a convenient granite table perfect for packing out your gear. There is no straightforward spot to erect a squid pole antenna mast, but there is a smallish gum tree that could be used to hoist up a wire antenna as high as maybe 4-5 meters. The north-western side of the summit is fairly open to the horizon, except for a big granite tor that keeps watch.

The Mt. Ginini Repeater is within easy range of a HT and rubber ducky antenna.

Andrew VK1NAM operating from the table on the summit of Prairie Dog Hill.
The big granite Tor anchored one part of the dipole

Contacts Made

Andrew VK1NAM and I took turns in a tag-team activation arrangement. Initially I had the Squid Pole set-up with the tape measure Yagi and we were hoping to make a few quick contacts with my FT817.

Right between us and Canberra, was a few summits as high or higher than our 1330 meters and these interfered somewhat with our attempts. We switched to Andrew’s FT857 and retried with 10 Watts which was more successful.

We also found that using the tape measure Yagi in the horizontal plane was more effective. Despite having the tape measure Yagi, VHF conditions were still a bit of a challenge if one only had 5 Watts: for example one QSO with Grant VK4JAZ/1 couldn’t be completed and when we retried about 5 minutes later, suddenly we were exchanging 5/9 and 5/8 signal reports. In the end I managed 8 VHF contacts on 2 meters in a combination of FM and SSB.

Apart from local VK1 chasers, I also made contact with Steve VK7CW in Tassie, Robert VK2XXM in Grafton, Mike VK3XL in Victoria, Robin VK5TN in Mt. Gambier, Peter VK3YE on Chelsea Beach with a 2 Watt transceiver, Scott VK2IF in NSW, Ron VK3VBI in Victoria and Rick VK4RF in Queensland.

Thank you very much for every contact!

Summary of contacts:

Useful Links

GPS GPX Track Log: Dropbox Link.
VK1NAM Blog: https://vk1nam.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/sota-prairie-dog-hill-orroral-valley/

There were a few of these rock stairs to get up