Category Archives: SOTA

Three summits on Mt Buffalo: The Hump (VK3/VE-019), The Horn (VE-014) and Mt McLeod (VE-034) 2017

The annual Australia Day holiday, Thursday January 26th 2017, set up an opportunity for a break and some alpine walking and activating.  Leaving Melbourne on Wednesday 25th I drove to Mt Buffalo and camped at Lake Catani on the Mt Buffalo plateau. Mt Buffalo is a mountain plateau (1400 meters) and national park, about 350 km north east of Melbourne.  This is a sub-alpine camp site which must be reserved ahead of arrival with Parks Victoria. There are lots of good camping spots under low snow-gums, a pristine fresh water lake that you can swim in, hot showers, no drinking water, and (apparently) a population of endemic dingoes.  Just down the road is former ski spot Dingo Dell, where I’ve ski’d many years earlier.  I had no idea that it is named after these Australian native dogs.

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Mt Feathertop (VK3/VE-002) 2017

Mt Feathertop (VK3/VE-002), 1922m, 10 Points, is the second highest mountain in Victoria.  Along with Mt Bogong and other summits and highlights along the Australian Alps Walking Track it is a popular hiking destination for more experienced and fit bushwalkers.  A number of sites offer advice and information for climbers.  So far there have been 6 SOTA activations (since first activated by Wayne VK3WAM in 2013).

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Mt Nelse (VK3/VE-004) first attempt: Or, how to blow an IRF510 on a 10 point summit

Day 3 of the Australia Day long weekend (Saturday 28th) was to be a 30 point day up on the summits of the Bogong High Plains, not far south of Falls Creek, starting with Mt Nelse (VK3/VE-004), Mt Cope (VG-001) and Mt McKay (VE-007). I chose Mt Nelse, a 5km walk each way, to start the day, parking at the second sign and car park after Rocky Valley Dam (first Heathy Spur, then Watchbed Creek).  The walk up is easy over rolling hill-like grades. After passing Marum Point track on the right, then Johnson’s and Edmonson hut turnoffs, the summit came up on the right, about 300m off the track. At the top the wind was buffeting. I found a threesome of hikers eating their lunch in the leeward side of the cairn which provided some limited shelter. These three mid-age walkers had met at Bogong summit 30 years ago and had got together for a high country walking weekend nearly every year since. It was their 30th anniversary walk this year.

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More power to the activator (choosing a new LiFePO4 pack)

When the time came recently for a new battery, I jumped onto HobbyKing and was bewildered by the range of options, even after limiting the search to a particular current capacity, in my case 4-5AH, and 4S (4 cells). Wishing to leverage the ‘wisdom of the SOTA crowd’, and at risk of reopening the “whats the best battery for SOTA” chestnut, I posted to the yahoo SOTA_Australia group:

I’m buying another LiPo from HobbyKing. This battery will be for general purpose 5 watt txcvr use, but will also be used to power an afterburner of the W6JL type, using a pair of IRF2Z24N hexFETs, for up to 50 watts. My question is, what do I make of the discharge figure on the LiPo packs, which varies from 10c to 35c? I presume this is the rate at which the battery can supply current under load, the higher the better. A higher discharge figure might be important when powering an afterburner, which might draw current peaks of many amps on voice peaks. Prices seem to correspond with higher discharge figures, from as low as $25 (10c) up to $55 (35c) for packs around the 4AH rating.

My only current Li-XXX asset.  

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Andrews Hill VK3/VN-020 for 2017

On New Years Day 2017 holiday, Monday January 2nd, I headed out to Andrews Hill to try my luck on 30 meters CW for a second CW-only activation. The drive is not more than an hour north east of Melbourne into the Kinglake National Park, and traffic was light. Arriving at Mountain Gate Rd by about 5pm, the 1.8km  walk up was steeper than I remembered from last time. The weather was excellent, temperature around 18 C and a light wind.  Scattered sunshine. At the top I set up for 30 meters and tuned around. A number of DX signals from the Oceania region were audible and fading from barely there  up to S5, easy copy,  including HA8JV (Hungary), JH1CCN and JA1VND (Japan). I called them with no replies. QRPers have to be optimists. On a summit like this, it is possible to copy an S1 or S2 CW signal due to the wonderfully low noise floor.

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2016/17 rollover party on Mt Disappointment VK3/Vc-014, and the christening of ‘Summit Prowler Two’

I left my plans for 2016/17 rollover late, and when I checked sotawatch alerts 24 hours out, there must have been 15 summits manned. From lunchtime on I was due at my brother’s QTH in Doreen, north of Melbourne. So I chose Mt Disappointment, which is an hour’s drive from my place and 45 minutes drive from the lunch destination. This gave me time for a leisurely activation on the picnic table near the summit. This was also to be my first attempt to activate a summit on 30 meters CW with the newly finished Wilderness SST rig.  It all went to plan. With 4 CW QSOs on 30 meters bagged, I switched to 40 after rollover for a bunch of hunt-and-pounce QSOs. Here’s a video that offers a taste of the CW and SSB signals heard and worked.

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A scratch-built 30m CW transceiver (Wilderness SST 30)

The Wilderness SST was designed around 1997 by Wayne Burdick, N6KR of Elecraft fame.  It was kitted (by Wilderness Radio) and sold well to excellent reviews.  On eHam the rig scores 5.0/5 from 33 reviews.  It is an exercise in minimalist design, and there is obvious lineage to be seen in how certain aspects of the SST design found their way into the Wilderness range of QRP radios, such as the way the receiver is coupled to the PA output and monitors the transmitted signal, and the audio-derived AGC.  It was respected among the QRP crowd in the USA (it appears in a list of QRP kits on Wikipedia, most of which are from US sources) but was not widely known here in VK. Fortunately, all of the resources and more to build this transceiver are easily found online.

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‘Summit Prowler One’: A homebrew 7MHz SSB QRP transceiver for SOTA

It all started 18 months ago with the completion of the MST400, a 7MHz SSB QRP transceiver in kit form. I’ve used this 40 meter 5 watt monobander for 34 SOTA activations to date.  It is the radio that appears in every one of my activations in this blog till this weekend. Following the pleasing performance of the MST receiver I wanted to scratch-build an SA612 based radio, to see if I could reproduce the performance of the MST400 but with a few changes to make it even better for activations.  I christened this radio the ‘Summit Prowler One’.  Summit Prowler?  Last year my First Harmonic and friends went through a huge ‘Magic The Gathering‘ stage.  MTG is a mythical strategy card game full of weird characters with strange powers.  When I first saw the MTG Summit Prowler card it occurred to me that there was a link to SOTA there, somewhere.  First Harmonic has moved on to other games, but my first Summit Prowler has been born!  Here it is, in its first incarnation, on the bench, around May 2016.

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Mt Little Joe (VK3/VC-027) and Mt Strickland (VK3/VN-030)

Sunday 23rd October 2016 promised to break a cold and wet spell in Victoria’s Spring weather that had deposited heavy rain, hail and snow down to 800 meters.  The night before, a bunch of keen activators had braved the weather to participate in a VK-ZL-G-Eu joint activation timed to capitalise on grey-line propagation.  Hats off to those who did go out because Melbourne’s weather was atrocious and a summit was about the last place most people would have wanted to be.  The next day, Sunday, dawned dry.  I considered going up to Lake Mountain for Federation Range but the snow cams showed a fresh coating of powdery white stuff, not enough to ski on but plenty enough to make it cold. What I really wanted was to christen my recently completed homebrew 7MHz SSB rig, codenamed ‘Summit Prowler One’.  The design and build story for this project in another post.  Mt Little Joe promised a good activation experience and a fresh mountain walk.

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Mt Donna Buang (VK3/VC-002) and Mt Ritchie (VK3/VC-003)

A clear winter’s day was forecast on August 5th 2016 and with arrangements made I headed out early to Mt Donna Buang VK3/VC-002 with plans for Mt Ritchie VK3/VC-003 afterwards.  I left Melbourne’s eastern suburbs by 0710 and arrived at Donna Buang around 0845 to a frosty, clear, cold and calm summit, distrubing no fewer than 5 lyre birds on the final few kilometers before the car park.  A bonus for getting up there early was spectacular morning sunrays cutting through the mountain mist.

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