Category Archives: SOTA

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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Mt St Leonard VK3/VC-006 for the VK1 SOTA QSO Party 2016

The VK1 SOTA QSO Party is in its fourth year.  Mountain Goat Andrew VK1AD ex 1NAM does a fine job of promoting it and rallying VK1s onto hilltops.  On Friday 5th August he posted that there were 19 planned activations recorded at SOTAWatch involving activations across VK1, VK2, VK3, VK5, VK7 and ZL1.  It worked out that if I left early for a nearby summit and kept moving I could join the party on Mt St Leonard VK3/VC-006. Mt St Leonard is not much more than an hour’s drive from the eastern suburns of Melbourne.  I left at 0710 and arrived at the car park just over an hour later.  On the Yarra Glen-Healesville Road I passed the morning balloon departure.  I was on the summit by 0830, plenty of time.

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Return to Mt Gordon VK3/VN-027 and Mt Strickland VK3/VN-030

Sunday 10th July 2016 turned out to be my first SOTA outing for several months.  Weather was windy, overcast with intermittent showers forecast, not the worst of winter, so I headed up to the northern end of the Yarra Ranges. First up was Mt Gordon VK3/VN-027 on the way to Marysville, turning off opposite the trout farm, my second visit here (the first one was on June 8th 2015).  The summit was windy and cold. I set up the dipole which performs better than the vertical. Self-spotting and going on air at 1430, conditions were average at best, the spot bought out two stations who I could not complete QSOs with, Matt VK1MA and Geoff VK3SQ Both were weak signals and faded right out on second overs. Five QSOs followed quickly, VKs 3GGG, 5IS, 2IO, 5EE and 2PX with my signals varying between 3×5 and 5×7.

Looking north from the Mt Gordon operating spot.

 

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FYBO 2016 at Kangaroo Ground

Sunday was the inaugural Freeze Your Butt Off (FYBO) context, devised by Ian VK5CZ to encourage portable (parks and SOTA) activity during the SOTA winter bonus period. The timing could not have been better for freezing one’s butt off, as an Antarctic blast of cold air swept up the east coast of Australia on Friday, just two days earlier, resulting in record low temperatures and snow falls down to 500 meters from Bathurst to Ballarat. Melbourne shivered through the coldest June day in almost 20 years on Friday with temperatures as low as 2C on Friday night. It was 4C at 9am Saturday. This is unseasonably cold.   I considered activating Melbourne’s nearest SOTA summit Mt Dandenong VK3/VC-025 (2 points) but my time was so short I opted for old favourite Kangaroo Ground which gives a clear take-off in all directions, has facilities, and can be reached in 30 minutes.

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Return to Mt Bullfight (VN-002) and Pyramid Hill (VN-005)

The Sunday of ANZAC Day weekend emerged as my first full SOTA day for 2016 and with perfect weather forecast (low 20 degrees Celsius) I was keen to have a second try at Mount Bullfight  (VK3/VN-002), this time approaching it from the ridge, not the creek. Last time, on 2nd December last year, I arrived later in the day after having activated two other summits, Mt Mitchell (VK3/VN-012) and the scenic Sugarloaf Peak (VK3/VN-011). On that occasion I left Bullfight Track about 300 meters further on and encountered the creek and thick undergrowth — not easy. There is a description of the two approaches in my previous post, and a map with the two paths here.  There are no paths or tracks in the vicinity of Mount Bullfight summit, so no two climbers take exactly the same way.  This time I wanted to cut in from Bullfight Track earlier, close to Stillman’s Lookout sign, which others had reported as being relatively clear of the dense undergrowth that slowed me down. I also wanted to tackle it as the first summit of the day, not the second or third, with plenty of time to spare. Whichever way you take, the final ascent to Bullfight summit is a decent climb.

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