Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Activating with VK2IO in New South Wales - Day 1

We travelled out to Sydney, Australia in January 2018 to stay with family. The last time I visited in 2013 there was no Australian SOTA Association. Now that there is gave me an opportunity to do some portable operating from the family's apartment in Sydney and more importantly, some SOTA chasing and activating while I was there. Travelling via Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong with my radio equipment did not present any problems. I packed the Yaesu FT-857, pole and aerial in my hold luggage and carried my batteries in my hand luggage. 
Phil VK2/G4OBK at the Lithgow Information Centre 
A few days after arriving I got in touch with one of the most prolific SOTA operators in New South Wales - this is Gerard Hill VK2IO. I knew Gerard had provided support to other visiting operators and thought that he may like to do some joint activations with me and provide some steerage. Fortunately Gerard was most enthusiastic about us getting together and going out to do some SOTAs! I provided him with a short list of summits I would have liked to visit - these were a handful of summit contacts I had logged in New South Wales as a Chaser from my home QTH in England or when I have been out SOTA portable - some of these were QSOs with Gerard as the operator at the VK end... 

On 23 January I had the use of the family car and drove, early morning, up to Gerard's QTH at Castle Hill - around a 50 minute drive from where I was staying in Balgowlah, a northern suburb of Sydney. Gerard had picked out a handful of summits from my short list for our day together in and around the Central Tablelands - we activated four in total. We left the VK2IO QTH at Castle Hill and drove inland to the North West towards the (SOTA VK2/CT) Central Tablelands area. By 9.00 am we arrived at a tourist information centre for a comfort break. The centre is located in a coal mining area and this aspect is proudly proclaimed by a miners Davy Lamp built into the building design of the information centre.

VK2/CT-007 Mount Lambie (1290m 8 points)

After a little more driving Gerard located a gravel track leading from the A32 main road which took us close to the top of Mount Lambie VK2/CT-007. The summit area was not fenced and supported several commercial towers with lots of aerials and dishes. We were now over 100 Km from Sydney and set up two stations on HF around 200m apart. I was at the trig point and Gerard was down the hill a little sitting by a tree in relative comfort in his short legged folding beach chair:
Gerard VK2IO/P VK2/CT-007 using Elecraft KX3 (built in ATU) and ZS6BKW dipole fed with 300 ohm ribbon
There was a brief shower, but no rain of any significance to prevent us making contacts. HF SOTA operation is a different ball game in Australia as I found, with just 14 contacts being made on 20m, 30m and 40m in a 45 minute period whilst running 50 watts on average from my Yaesu FT-857. I operated on my usual 7033 KHz frequency for CW and the standard VK/ZL calling frequency for SOTA on the 40m band of 7090 KHz. The popular WWFF awards frequency is 7144 KHz. 

My station situated at the trig point on Mount Lambie VK2/CT-007 Yaesu FT-857 and link dipole on 20m/30m/40m bands
SSB was used on 30m as the WIA (Wireless Institute of Australia) VK bandplan permits the use of 'phone.  If I had spent this amount of time and power operating within EU on two modes over three amateur bands I guess I would have made  approaching 50 QSOs with ten or fifteen DXCC Countries, such is the difference in geography and population density in EU compared to Australia / New Zealand. As it happened I worked just ten VK and ZL stations which is par for the course here:

After what was a very laid back activation we took a few photos, packed up and ate a pork pie each before starting to head back to Sydney by calling in at another three summits en-route.

VK2/CT-005 8 Points (1310m)

VK2/G4OBK Station - using 30m SSB on VK2/CT-005 - a summit with no name

VK2/CT-005 is a summit with no name located on top of a forested hill in the Jenolan State Forest near Oberon, 31 Km south of the previous summit of Mount Lambie CT-007. The forest is classed as lying within the Blue Mountains Area. A forestry graded public road runs over the summit which is most convenient for access from the metalled road 3 Km away from the summit. It was dusty driving on the road in my borrowed Toyota Kluger V6 SUV Auto - the car needed to be put through the car wash the next day....

Gerard's SOTA Flag is flying by the track on top of VK2/CT-005
So here I was at 0200z (1300 local time) operating in Australia and enjoying a most comfortable SOTA activation in a pleasant ambient temperature of around 28C.

Rigging my link dipole by the gravel track on the unnamed summit VK2/CT-005
I can understand why some operators over here think nothing of spending several hours on a summit, and even as Gerard does on occasion,  camping out overnight. On CT-005 I made just 10 contacts on 3 bands in 35 minutes before it was time to pack up again. All contacts were in SSB on 40m and 30m bar one with ZL1BYZ on 20m CW. 

VK2/CT-003 Mount Bindo 8 Points (1363m)

Mount Bindo lies around 8 Km north of CT-005 and is again reached via a graded forestry track which leads to some radio masts on the summit, one of which Gerard informed me supports an amateur radio 2m repeater property (VK2RDX) of the South Sydney based St George Radio Society - what a grand name for a radio club...There was evidence of campfires here and Gerard confirmed that people do camp here, and that he had actually camped out himself in the past, activating over two days.  I located the trig point and set up near to that and Gerard walked on for 200m and set up his station against a tree. 

Trig point on Mount Bindo with broken mounting

I made six contacts on 40m from Bindo in ten minutes - then no response from 10 minutes of CQ calls on 20m and 30m. Midday conditions for sure, but Gerard had cleaned up on 20m before I got there, making 9 Qs on CW/SSB on that band. Gerard confirmed that the repeater here has outstanding coverage into Sydney and beyond. I set my station up against the old log near to where the campfires has been lit: 

So my activation time here was shorter than Gerard's and after less than an hour on the summit in total we were ready to pack up and head back to Sydney via our final (drive in) summit in the more greener Blue Mountains area.

VK2/CT-043 Mount Tomah 6 Points (1010m)

Gerard VK2IO operating in comfort 20m CW on Mount Tomah VK2/CT-043
To reach Tomah we drove via The Bells of Line Road. I was driving and the terrain the road passed through was spectacular.  It was amazing that a road could be driven through there. Gerard told me there has been some spectacular crashes on that road due to brake failures on the enormous trucks using it -  typical of the type that I saw that day using the road.  The highest point and the designated summit of Mount Tomah, is on the south top which is reached down a minor metalled road leading off the B59 Bells of Line Road. There was the occasional country house along the minor road, with very well trimmed grassed verges.

We parked near an International Reiki Centre driveway with a barking dog for a time. We again set up around 200m apart, keeping in touch via our 2m handhelds for liaison as to who was operating on which band/mode to avoid clashing.  My operation on 40m was very successful with 12 QSOs on CW/SSB. A few chasers appeared who I hadn't worked on the previous summits, so I guess it was more a case of hams getting in from work, rather than improved propagation, The 40m band did seem noisier than earlier in the day, and I think this was down to more sky wave propagation so maybe conditions were up... Gerard concentrated on 20m again and I tried 30m SSB which resulted in a single contact with VK3GGG - nice call!  


NYSA (North Yorkshire SOTA Association) members generally try their best on activation days in Scotland, Wales and England to call in somewhere for a fast food meal on the way home and today was no exception. It can be a burger joint or chicken. Today we passed my favourites - there were three KFC outlets on the way back to Sydney.  We called in at the Richmond branch. I noticed a few differences with the franchises in the UK and how the food was served. I can report that the quality of the chicken and chips served was just as good as what we have come to expect in the UK. I've been eating this stuff since 1973 - when Colonel Sanders was still alive - he went silent key in 1980.

VK/KFC/G4OBK/P - Australia style - drinks in tins and a pot of mashed potato with gravy on the side!
After dropping Gerard off at Castle Hill and filling up the tank on the Toyota I rolled back into our Balgowlah QTH at 9.45 pm - it had been a fifteen hour day which reaped me 4 summits (2 SOTA Complete) for 30 points. I had a QSO total of 39 whilst Gerard made 48. I'm hoping we can do another joint activation day before I head back home in February, so if you read this keep a close eye on the SOTAWatch alerts page if you read this in time.  My next activation is likely to be solo from the often activated Mount Elliot VK2/HU-093, the week commencing 29th January. I'll alert as soon as know I have got transport - probably the day before. It will take me around 90 minutes to get there from Sydney. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Activating in North Wales - January 2018 - 2nd day

Breakfast was served at the Penrhos Arms in Cemmaes at 8.00 am. We left at 9.00 am having settled our bill. Before breakfast I studied the local map and found that the North Wales summit of Mynydd Cwmcelli GW/NW-052 was just four miles north of the Penrhos Arms. It was a summit which had escaped my attention until then, but with the weather looking seemingly drier than forecast we were hopeful of activating two "unique to us" summits west of Oswestry before heading for our homes north and south in the early part of the afternoon. 

GW/NW-052 Mynydd Cwmcelli

A lane leaves the A470 from Aberangell and takes you to a parking place for two cars at SH814105 just where the forestry track goes into Dovey Forest. The photo here shows the roadside parking spot where the recommended route to the summit of NW-052 leads off:
Car parking - as Geoff is about to turn left to join the track into Dovey Forest to NW-052
Once on the forest road take care not to miss the turn off on the right after 250m (which we did, slightly, we talk too much!). From here the lesser used track took us to SH808101 where fallen trees forced us into a detour around them and into the forest on the north side of the track:

We found out why the trees had come down - forestry contractors had felled a large bank of trees on the north facing slope near our track, exposing the tall trees remaining there to the full force of the wind, so when the first big blow had come they had fallen. It happens a lot to adjoining sections of forests when partial harvesting takes place - here is the line of our track:
I would recommend walking the longer way to go via Bwlch Tri Arglwydd. If you are tempted to go up sooner you'll find it pretty steep... There are several hillocks around the summit area and evidence of motorbike traffic, which has made a mess of the terrain. The summit has a trig point:

A brief ten minute session on 2m FM with the usual QRO mobile set up provided six contacts each. G0LGS and G4ILI in Cheltenham were easily worked. With a cold wind we didn't linger. It took 30 minutes to get back to the cars. 

GW/NW-046 Rhialgwm 

Leaving Aberangell on the A470 we made our way in the direction of Oswestry. It was a considerable drive which took around 40 minutes. Parking was at a turning point near the end of a public road leading into a forest north east of Llanwddyn - grid ref SJ052204. The last few hundred metres was a little rough but is easily passable in any car. Our cars are shown turned and ready for a quick getaway after our activation:

The route used was roughly two thirds forest track one third rough moor with quad tracks on the ground. You reach this gate at SJ061213 where you leave the woodland:

When we reached the summit and spoke to Matt G8XYJ, he told us about the amazing view from the summit. We could see nothing due to mist, so there was no point taking a photo there. We completed 9 contacts and again worked our two friends in Cheltenham. 


With dry weather both days, it had been a very worthwhile 500 mile round trip for me to bag five more unique summits in Wales. The only problem for us both was driving in thick mist on the first day, getting from Geoff's QTH near Malvern to Pegwn Mawr MW-006. I had good journey back though and filled up my car on the way at Tesco in Prestwich, Manchester. It was 6.15 pm when I walked through the door back in Pickering.  I plan to return to the area in April where I am based for a few days on a walking holiday in the Elan Valley. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

Activating in Mid Wales - January 2018 - 1st day

I hadn't been to Wales to activate for SOTA since summer 2017 so when the chance to return came in mid January 2018 I took it. I stayed overnight at the QTH of my friend Geoff M0PYG, who lives near Malvern. We planned to activate four summits in Wales over two days. On the second day we had dry weather throughout the morning after expecting forecasted rain, so the extended dry spell enabled us to activate a fifth summit before I returned home to North Yorkshire and Geoff headed back home to Malvern... 

Friday 12th January 2018:

1. GW/MW-006 Pegwn Mawr
Our walk route in red. You can download the tracks in my blog in GPX format from the SOTA Mapping Project Website
Driving in convoy as two cars, we left Cradley near Malvern in fog at 0620z. On the journey to Rhayader the temperature fell to -5c. There is a convenience store with toilets at Crossgates on the A44 and we made good use of it. We left Rhayader via the B4518 which took on a motorised climb to the entrance to Pegwn Mawr Wind Farm in Powys, just beyond the farm called Cloesffynnon. We parked on the side of the track below the 2nd gate at SO009809 and were walking by 0905z.
Geoff M0PYG at a gate around 30m from the highest point on Pegwn Mawr
The ground was hard and frosty and now that we were above the bank of mist looking like cotton wool below us in the valleys, the temperature had risen to a comfortable 0c. It felt warmer than that in the sunshine. In passing we had hoped to speak to the farmer at Cloesffynnon out of courtesy, to let him know we were intending to park by the track above the gate leading out of his farmyard, however there was no one at the farm when we passed. In the event, we met him once we were walking. He came down the hill on his quad, returning from feeding his huge flock of sheep grazing among the wind turbines on the summit. He was very friendly so we had a chat before proceeding to the summit. He didn't object to us parking the car where we had, so long as it was off the main track. The way to the top is easy with no obstacles in the way and we reached the trig point in less than 30 minutes. Being above the mist we weren't banking on any tropospheric propagation using 2m FM...
Geoff operating as MW0PYG/P making contacts from Pegwn Mawr GW/MW-006
In the event we were rewarded with 11 contacts on the 2m FM band whilst running a Yaesu FT-1500M at 40 watts output from a 4 amp LiFePo battery to a vertical dipole aerial at 4m AGL before returning to the car. I say car - for convenience we had left Geoff's car nearby in the Chapel Car Parking area at SO000801. 

2. GW/MW-018 Bryn y Fan
Mist in the middle of day at the car park for Byn y Fan - the toilets are permanently closed and up for sale
A large car park is provided by the B4518 near to the Llwyn Clywedog Reservoir. If it wasn't for today's mist we may have seen the reservoir....no chance. We set out from the car park SN821882 hoping that the mist would either burn off or that we would rise above it. Burn off it did not, all day, however we did rise above it to capture this lovely photo near the summit of Bryn y Fan with the reservoir below us in its shroud:

We took the shortest route up which involved climbing a low fence - I would recommend using our down route though and walk to the switchback, it was easier that way on the knees as well coming down. Our up/down tracks are shown here  - taken from my Viewranger account:
This was the only summit out of three today that did not house a wind farm. The trig point is located on a piece of moorland, typical of many others in the UK. Here is M0PYG posing for the camera by the side of it:
The 145 MHz coverage from MW-018 on 2m FM wasn't as bad as we feared, with the summit lying 100m lower and behind the earlier activated Pegwn Mawr ridge (MW-006) to the south east of Bryn y Fan. We logged nine stations in 15 minutes in England (mostly) and Wales before packing up to head off to our last summit of the day at the Carno Wind Farm which was five miles north of our current location. The same set up was used on this summit as was used on Pegwn Mawr. 

3. Bryn Amlwg GW/MW-015

A short drive now to the village of Carno where there was a convenience store and a most convenient place to park Geoff's Subaru. We went up the lane in my Skoda and parked at some buildings that supported the Carno Windfarm installation across the valley where the summit of Bryn Amlwg is located. This was our longest walk in of the three summits done today - a shade over two miles each way.  It was still cold enough for hats and gloves and there was no winter bonus available on this one either, but more importantly for me, this was my third SOTA Complete of the day....
The bridleway going west from the buildings is over rough land and not worth trying. Better to continue to walk down the public road and turn right to head downhill past Blaen-y-cwm farm and over the bridge, and then continue the long way round on the graded service roads rather than be tempted into cutting across what is very rough terrain. The farm at Pantle is unoccupied and becoming derelict - the left side front of the roof has gone in. Shame that, as once the water gets into a stone building like that it soon gets completely wrecked.  This picture was taken on our return leg after the activation:
Continuing on the higher ground above Pantle the tracks took us to what appeared to me to be the back entrance gate to the wind farm. The gate lies just within the 25m drop activation zone. We continued on to the trig point and set up there. We never saw a soul, the same as on our previous summit Byn y fan. It was a Friday, so maybe Saturday would have been different....
Phil G4OBK this blog writer at the back gate to Carno Wind Farm (Bryn Amlwg GW/MW-015)
So, onward then to the trig point amongst the sound of the turbines that were turning well in what was a light wind. As on the two previous summits today, we were carrying HF QRP equipment that would have been deployed had we needed to, but with the journey time to reach our first summit and the shortness of the January daylight hours, our endeavour was to work all comers on 2m, qualify the summit, and then move off to the next place. That way it was easily possible to complete three summits in the day and then finish off by arriving in daylight at a village pub for the night.  It worked out well for us on Bryn Amlwg and we made six QSOs in fifteen minutes and then it was time to pack up. Looking at the six stations worked for evidence of a QSO on all three summits, we just had Allan GW4VPX/M in the log on all three. Allan had been on some business in Mid Wales for most of the day and was in his car and in the right place for a QSO every time we landed on a summit. Nice one Allan! 

The walk back to the car took 45 minutes. We drove to an interesting tearoom and museum at Llanbrynmair on the A470 for a brew of tea and some marvellous Welsh Cakes. We left there at closing time (1630) and followed the satnav via a ridiculously narrow country lane which led us to the village of Cemmaus and the Penrhos Arms, where we had a room reserved for the night. We'd seen on road signs that the nearest town was Machynlleth. We didn't pass through it but I'm fairly certain that I'll get there one day in my quest to activate all the summits in Wales.  

The Penrhos Arms at Cemmaes was average in more ways than one, the main gripe was that the shower mounting was broken and the water pressure extremely low. The staff were welcoming and friendly though, and that made up for what were minor issues. If you order Whitebait here as a starter what you get are small pieces of fish in breadcrumbs, not whitebait.  It still tasted good though after a day outside on the hills of Mid Wales....as did the enormous Celtic Burger and nice chips. I didn't finish the burger on account of over-indulging on the "Whitebait" of which there was enough for two servings. We had another part day to go tomorrow when we were to tip into the North Wales Association. I expect to be back activating in Mid-Wales in April when I am staying with eighteen other members of Ryedale Walking Group at the Elan Valley Lodge