European and UK activators

Last night (Monday 23rd December, 2013) I was on the 7.130 DX Net on 40m, and the goat bleated on my iPhone on the SOTA Goat app, to advise there was a SOTA activator out and about.  So I checked the phone and saw that it was Jana, DG5WU operating portable on Wildalpjoch, DL/ MF-075.  It was just starting to get dark outside, so things looked promising with the grayline.  I tuned to 20m and I could just barely hear Jana, but certainly not strong enough to work.  And there was a constant pile up.

So feeling a little dejected, my goat bleated again a few minutes later, and I saw a spot for Patricio EA2EX who was portable on Ilso, EA2/ BI-050 in the Vizcaya region of northern Spain, not far from the French border.  I tuned a few kc away from Jana, and there was Patricio.  Not all that strong, but audible all the way down here in South Australia.  So I eagerly picked up the mic, and I tried calling Patricio, but couldn’t make the grade through the European pile up.

But I kept listening and remained patient, and to his credit, Patricio called for outside Europe, and I was able to make contact with him.  Not flattering signal reports either way, but a contact nether less.  We were able to hear each other.  All the way from a mountain top in Spain to the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.  And all on Patricio’s 5 watts.

Patricio was using a Yaesu FT-817, 5 watts, and a ground plane antenna.

Patricio is ranked 9th in the EA2 Association as a SOTA activator.

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I then saw another spot for Col, F/MM0YCJ, on 20m, on F/ AB-204.  Hoping that I might get lucky again, I tuned to his operating frequency.  But that wasn’t to be the case.  Sadly I could not hear Col at all.  I could clearly hear the Chasers, but not Col.

I have now worked a total of  22 DX Activators in 14 different European SOTA Associations on SSB (20m & 10m).  I have my Bronze Mountain Hunter certificate (currently 9 different Associations with QSO’s with at least 2 different summits).  I have 11 Associations where my count is 1 summit. So I need just 1 more contact to qualify for Silver Mountain Hunter.

I am yet to make contact with a US activator.  I must polish up on my CW skills and give Morse a go and I would probably have more success !

As I have found out myself, as a SOTA Activator, it is possible to make good DX contacts all the way to Europe, the UK, & the USA, on QRP power.  It all depends on the conditions, your antenna, the Chaser’s antenna, good listening skills, good operator practise, the time of the day, and of course GOOD LUCK !

In closing, I just wanted to say thank you to those European & UK SOTA activators that take the time to have a listen out for us all the way down here in Australia.  It seems that more & more interest is growing in getting Europe – Australia SOTA contacts, thanks to the recent efforts of Andrew VK1NAM, Ed VK2JI, & others. Ian VK5CZ (the VK5 SOTA Assoc Manager) made contact with a station in Poland on 10m just a few nights ago.

So thanks for listening for us Aussies.  There is a core group of us SOTA enthusiasts down here that would be more than happy to get you in the log.

New book added to my library

Recently I purchased the following book from the WIA Library…..

‘Low Power Communication.  The Art and Science of QRP”.

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I am only half way through reading it, but this book is highly recommended.  It contains some terrific information and tips on QRP operation, not just for portable enthusiasts, but for Foundation calls as well.

The book includes the following…..

  • Tips to Get You Started the Right Way
    An introduction to QRP operating, FAQs for newbies and tips that even experienced amateurs will appreciate.
  • Equipment and Station Accessories
    Off-the-shelf commercial gear, kit building and homebrew, including an all-new homebrew photo gallery.
  • Antennas for QRP – Updated and Expanded!
    Wire beams, loops, dipoles, portable antennas and a look at the author’s new stealth antenna design.
  • Operating Strategies
    Contesting, awards and advanced techniques for becoming a successful QRP operator.
  • Emergency Communication
    Training, planning and other factors for utilizing low-power gear during an emergency.
  • HF Propagation for the QPRer
    NEW! An authoritative look at likely propagation conditions for Solar Cycle 24.
  • Plus, QRP calling frequencies, manufacturers…and much more!

The other day I heard someone commenting on air as to how stupid it was that Foundation calls used just 10 watts.  All I can say to that is that SOTA, the KRMNPA, the VK5 Parks Award, etc, have all recently shown what can be done with a lot less than 10 watts.  For me its all about knowing the band conditions, timing your calls, and antenna…antenna….antenna.

Mt Lofty summit and Cleland CP

On Friday evening, 20th December, 2013, I headed up to Mount Lofty summit, which is only 20 km west of home.  Well, I actually had the luxury of a chaufferred ride up there by my wife Marija, who dropped me off and then headed back home.  Marija didn’t fancy sitting on a log in the bush, holding hands, and listening to me talking on the radio, so she dropped me off and we organised for her to come back over and pick me up later.  Now thats a dedicated wife.  I think she may have had plans of leaving me on the summit !

Mount Lofty summit is also located within the Cleland Conservation Park, so it qualifies for the VK5 National & Conservation Parks Award as well as SOTA.  I have activated Mount Lofty & Cleland Conservation Park, 3 times before, but my motivation for the activation was that the 7.130 DX Net was holding a special Christmas edition of the net.  So I decided to do something a bit ‘novel’ for the net and head up to the summit.

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After Marija dropped me off, I set up in my favourite spot on the eastern side of the summit, along a walking track in the bush.  This is a quieter location, away from the obelisk, the cafe, and the tourists.  There is a convenient Telstra sign there which is great to secure the squid pole to.  The weather conditions were not the best.  The temperature had dropped from a very hot 40 deg C down to about 25 deg C and the wind had really whipped up and was very strong.  Every time I heard a crack or a creak, I was looking up to make sure it wasn’t a gum tree limb about to come crushing down.  And out to the east of me there was plenty of shower activity.

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I set up the linked dipole to 20m first, and my first contact was with John VK2YW who had  beautiful strong signal coming in from Wagga Wagga.  This was followed by Tom VK3EO who also had a very strong 5/9 signal from Swan Hill.  Normally the VK3 fellas don’t come in all that well on 20m, but Tom certainly had a magnificent signal.  Andrew VK1NAM then called in from the ACT with his normal good solid signal.  And thanks to Andrew as well for spotting me on SOTAWatch.  And my fourth contact was with another VK3….Marshall VK3MRG, who had a beautiful strong signal.

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I was hoping that some of the Western Australia SOTA Chasers may call in, and sure enough Mike VK6MB came up.  It was good to get Mike in the log, because I can only imagine how hard it must be all the way over there in Western Australia to get 20m SOTA / QRP contacts.  So that’s why I have been trying to make a concerted effort to get onto 20m more often during any SOTA or Parks activation.  I have mentioned it before, but I think us Aussies take distance/s for granted down here in this big country of Oz.  It is about 4,000 km from Sydney to Perth (east to west), and a little over 3,000 km from Adelaide to Darwin (south to north).  They are big distances.  The map below will give you a good idea of the size of Australia compared to Europe.  And we regularly call VK3 – VK6 contacts…a local QSO !

aust-europe-map

I was also hoping that a bit of DX might call in, and to my surprise (with the help of Andrew’s spot on SOTAWatch), Michael DJ5AV called in with a booming 5/9 signal.  I received  a 5/5 signal report back Michael, who has recently been chasing a lot of the Australian SOTA activators.  My second DX contact was with Colin G4UXH.  This was much more of a challenge.  I could hear Colin very well (5/6) but he was struggling with me (3/2).

I then looked down the band to 14.156, hoping to speak to a few of my friends in the UK, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand, who gather there every day for a chat.  I spoke to John EA7BA (5/9 sent & 5/4 received).  I could clearly hear Terry G0VWP, but sadly he was unable to hear me.  This was a real shame, because Terry is a SOTA enthusiast.  I could also hear Billy, GI3NVW, but unfortunately I wasn’t quite making the grade with him.  He could hear me, but that was about it.

After working 11 stations on 20m I was running out of time, so I switched over to the 40m band and initially called CQ on 7.090 and worked Nev VK5WG, Allen VK3HRA, and Tony VK3CAT.  All had very nice signals.

I then QSY’d to the 7.130 DX Net.  Sadly the Over the Horizon radar was extremely strong and this made conditions very difficult indeed for me to work any of the DX that was on the net with my flea power of 5 watts.  I tried calling Brian ZL2ASH who was a good signal, but sadly he couldn’t hear me through the radar.  I normally make the grade quite easily with Brian when I am portable/QRP, but not this night.  William FO5JV was coming in very strong, and despite the fact that I had worked him previously whilst portable/QRP, I decided not to call, simply because of the radar.

I did take a little bit of video which I have placed on You Tube, which shows the radar in action…..

After working 6 stations on the net (in VK2, VK3, & VK7), I announced that I would QSY down to 7.110 and work anyone who might like Mount Lofty & Cleland Conservation Park.  The weather had deteriorated dramatically, and Marija had arrived and was waiting for me in the car, so it was a case of getting any interested ops in the log and moving on.  The weather had dropped from 40 deg C earlier in the day, down to about 13 deg C on the summit, with drizzly rain and strong gusty winds.  I did manage to work a few more stations in VK2, VK3, VK4, & VK5, (including Andrew VK2FAJG, operating QRP with 4 watts) before packing up and heading back home to the warmth of home.

By the end of the activation, I had a a total of 26 stations on 20m SSB and 40m SSB in the log.

The following stations were worked:-

John VK2YW; Tom VK3EO; Andrew VK1NAM; Marshall VK3MRG; Ed VK2AFY; Mike VK6MB; Michael DJ5AV; Gerard VK2IO; Colin G4UXH; Glenn VK3YY; John EA7BA; Nev VK5WG; Allen VK3HRA; Tony VK3CAT; Andy VK4TH; Ron VK3IO; Richard VK3IDX; Dennis VK2HHA; Paul VK7CC; Roy VK7ROY; Colin VK4FAAS; Urey VK3ATA; Luke VK3HJ; Iva VK4HG; Rod VK5FTTC; and Andrew VK2FAJG (QRP 4 watts).

Despite the weather, and the fact that it was no extra points for me for either SOTA or the VK5 Parks Award, this was a good fun evening.

The Summitsbase S2S Award

This morning I checked my e-mails and to my pleasure I found an e-mail from Mike G4BLH from ‘The Summitsbase’.  The e-mail contained my Class 2 Summit to Summit Award for 50 Summit to Summit contacts.

The Summitsbase website is primarily tailored for amateur radio operators who participate in programs such as Summits on the Air (SOTA),  the Summitsbase HuMPs Awards (HEMA) or S2S Awards, Wainwrights on the Air (WOTA).  More information can be found on the Summitsbase website……

http://www.summits.org.uk

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Other than having some really interesting information which is well worth reading, Summitsbase also runs a number of awards.  Some of these such as the HuMPS Awards are not applicable to Australian hams, but the Summit to Summit (S2S) Awards Scheme is.  The S2S award is currently valid for contacts between two SOTA summits and is available at a number of different levels (I have highlighted the levels I have reached)…..

Class 3 Award: 25 unique Summit–Summit contacts
Class 2 Award: 50 unique Summit-Summit contacts
Class 1 Award: 100 unique Summit-Summit contacts
Intermediate Award: 250 unique Summit-Summit contacts
Advanced Award: 500 unique Summit-Summit contacts
Master Award: 750 unique Summit-Summit contacts
Supreme Award: 1000 unique Summit-Summit contacts

So why not add a bit more wallpaper to your shack and apply for some of The Summitsbase certificates.  They are really impressive.

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VK5PAS SS-25-070

European/UK summit contacts

During the past couple of weeks, a number of VK amateurs have been aiming for Summit to Summit (S2S) contacts with European & UK SOTA activators.  Andrew VK1NAM has been leading the charge, and has been very successful in bagging some great S2S contacts and also along the way some general DX QSO’s with SOTA Chasers in Europe.  Check out Andrew’s WordPress site at…..

http://vk1nam.wordpress.com

As a result, Andrew’s enthusiasm has rubbed off on me, and my interest in keeping an eye on SOTAWatch for European activators has increased (from the comfort of home at this stage).  In the past week I have worked 5 x European/UK SOTA activators:-

  • Steve, G1INK/p in ENGLAND
  • Klaus, DF2GN/p in GERMANY
  • Dinos, SV3IEG/p in GREECE
  • Csaba, YO6PIB/p in ROMANIA
  • Don, M0HCU/p in ENGLAND

My first ever SOTA contact was actually with a DX station.  That was back in December, 2011, and was with Mike, 2E0YYY/p, who was portable on Moel Famau, in WALES.  What an introduction to SOTA.  I would go on to work Mike again in May 2012, and May 2013.

In between time, I had worked a few other DX activators…..

  • EA3EGB/p in SPAIN
  • EA1/M0UOK/p in SPAIN (my mate Barry who was on holidays)
  • OK/SQ9SHR/p in CZECH REPUBLIC
  • HA5MA/p in HUNGARY
  • HA5LV/p in HUNGARY
  • G7TAS/p in ENGLAND
  • SP6KEP/p in POLAND
  • S57MS/p in SLOVENIA
  • HA3LV/p in HUNGARY
  • SV3GLI/p in GREECE
  • OE4JHW/p in AUSTRIA

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So, on Saturday (23rd November, 2013) I saw that Andrew VK1NAM and Al VK1RX were heading to Mount Taylor, VK1/ AC-037 to see if they could work some DX summit to summit QSO’s.  Surprisingly I could barely hear Andrew & Al on 20m from Mount Taylor.  Normally they both have thumping signals on 14 mhz, but this day their signals were really low down (almost unreadable).  But to my surprise I could hear the SOTA activators in Europe that they were working.  So there was some hope that I could work a few from the comfort of my shack.

I tuned across the 20m band, but sadly could not find any of the European activators, so I headed up to 10m, which is my favourite band, hoping to work some DX.  And much to my surprise, I found Steve, G1INK/p, who was on SOTA peak, Kinder Scout, G/SP-001.  Steve was one of the activators that had previously worked Andrew and Al on 20m.  Activity was pretty quiet, so I called Steve who came back to me (5/4 sent and 5/7 received).  Steve is the leading activator in England, and is currently sitting on 1,011 summits activated, with a total of 4,081 points.  Not a bad effort at all.  I think I have a bit of catching up to do !!!

Below is a photo of Steve…..

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Kinder Scout is 636 metres above sea level, is worth 4 SOTA points, and is situated in the Southern Pennines Region of ENGLAND.  It is a moorland plateau and National Nature Reserve in the Dark Peak of the Derbyshire Peak District in England.  It is the highest point in the Peak District, the highest point in Derbyshire, and the highest point in the East Midlands.  During excellent weather conditions, the city of Manchester and Greater Manchester can be seen.  Below is a photograph of Kinder Scout plateau as viewed from the south…..

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Steve has a terrific You Tube page with lots of videos.  Click on the link below to have a look…..

http://www.youtube.com/user/g1ink

A week later, on Friday afternoon (29th November, 2013), I saw that Andrew VK1NAM was heading to the hills again in the hope of getting some more European S2S activity.  And he succeeded.  Well done Andrew.  And this time I could hear Andrew well, so I gave him a shout and bagged Mount Taylor, VK1/ AC-037.  He was using a Yaesu FT-857d, 50 watts, into a 20m/40m linked dipole.

I then hunted around the 20m band, hoping to find some of the European SOTA activators.  I managed to track down Klaus, DF2GN/p, who I had heard working Andrew a little earlier.  Klaus was portable on SOTA peak, Hummelsberg, DM/ BW-228 and had a very strong 5/8 signal into my shack.  I received a genuine 5/9 from Klaus.   He was using an inverted L antenna.  Klaus is ranked 16th as an Activator in the DM Association.

Hummerlsberg is located in the Low Mountains in the Bathe Wuerttemberg Region of Germany, and is 1,002 metres above sea level.  It is worth 10 points.

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On Saturday afternoon (30th November, 2013), inspired by working Klaus the day before, I had a listen again on 20m.  I had seen a few Alerts on SOTAWatch from European activators indicating that they would be looking for VK Chasers, so this was very promising.

My first contact was with Dinos, SV3IEG/p, who was portable on SOTA peak, Pergari, SV/ AT-033.  Dinos had a very nice signal and I got through first time to him (5/7 both ways).  Hats off to Dinos, because despite having lots of European Chasers, he regularly stopped and called for VK and outside Europe.  Pergari is located in the Attica Region on Greece and is 1,108 metres above sea level.  It is worth 4 SOTA points.

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My second contact was with Csaba, YO6PIB/p who was portable on SOTA peak, Clabucetul Taurului, YO/ EC-145.  His signal was down a little bit, but still he was very readable.  (4/3 sent and 5/3 received).  Clabucetul Taurului is located in the Eastern Carpathians Region of Romania.  It is 1,520 metres above sea level, and is worth 8 SOTA points.  This was the first time the summit had ever been activated.

Csaba has a Blogspot.  Click on the following link to have a look…..

http://yo6pib.blogspot.com.au

Below is a photo of Csaba operating on a SOTA peak (not YO/ EC-145).

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And finally, I saw a spot for Don, M0HCU, who was on SOTA peak, Titterstone Clee Hill, G/ WB-004.  Initially Don was very weak and I was struggling to hear him through the noise from the neighbour’s plasma television.  And when his signal did come up, it was a struggle to break through the European Chaser pile up.  But eventually I did, and got Don in the log (5/3 sent and 4/7 received).  I was Don’s first ever VK SOTA contact.

Don has a website.  Click on the link below to have a look…..

http://m0hcu.co.uk

The summit of Titterstone Clee which Don was sitting on, is bleak and treeless.  It has been shaped by decades of quarrying.  Many of the quarrying structures still remain, and these lend to the ghostly atmosphere of the hill top, especially during the prolonged winter fogs that descend over the hills.

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I have worked quite a bit of DX since becoming a SOTA activator in March this year.  But I have never had a DX S2S contact.  I would imagine it would be a real buzz when you receive a call back from someone sitting on top of a mountain overseas.  As Andrew VK1NAM told me, it took him 3 days to come down off his high after getting his first European S2S.

I have now worked 17 different SOTA Associations.  I am now just a few contacts away from qualifying for my Silver Mountain Hunter certificate (2 different / unique summits in each of 10 Associations).

  • DM – 1
  • EA1 – 1
  • EA3 – 1
  • G – 3
  • GW – 1
  • HA – 2
  • OE – 1
  • OK – 1
  • S5 – 1
  • SP – 1
  • SV – 2
  • VK1 – 24
  • VK2 – 29
  • VK3 – 134
  • VK5 – 21
  • VK9 – 1
  • YO – 1