It had been a little bit over a week since my last portable outing and I was getting an itchy PTT finger. So on Wednesday morning (1st February 2017) I headed over to the northern side of the Adelaide Hills (Mount Lofty Ranges) for an activation at Mount Gawler VK5/ SE-013 for the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. The summit is around a 43 km drive north from my home, and about 37 km north east of Adelaide.
Above:- Map showing the location of Mount Gawler, VK5/ SE-013, north east of Adelaide. Map courtesy of openstreetmap.org
Mount Gawler is 541 metres in height and is worth 2 SOTA points. It is the highest activated summit in South Australia. I highly recommend this summit if you want to ‘cut your teeth’ on SOTA. This is an easy summit to access. No walking uphill is required. You can activate the summit comfortably, from within the SOTA activation zone, from the roadway (Mount Gawler Road. But I had telephoned the land owners, Noel and Anne, the night before, and as has been the case with previous activations at this summit, they kindly allowed me access to their land. So I operated from very close to the trig point.
Above:- Map showing the location of the summit, to the west of the little town of Kersbrook. Map courtesy of openstreetmap.org
I took the Kenton Valley Road from home out through this beautiful part of the Adelaide Hills, to Gummeracha and then on to Kersbrook. As I travelled down Checker Hill Road, the summit came into view. The drive down Checker Hill Road towards Kersbrook is very steep, and this hill has featured in the world famous Tour Down Under Cycling event. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) categories Checker Hill as a category 2 climb (the second hardest).
Checker Hill is described as short but fierce, boasting an average gradient of 14.2%, with a maximum of around 20%. It has been described as a challenge even for the pros to conquer. There are some great views from here down towards Kersbrook. I must look at some maps to see if Checker Hill itself has the required prominence for SOTA.
Above:- Looking towards the summit from Checker Hill Road.
I travelled out of Kersbrook on the Kersbrook-One Tree Hill Road and then turned into Mount Gawler Road. This area was ravaged by an extremely devastating bushfire back in early 2015, known as the Sampson Flat fire. A total of 38 homes and 125 outbuildings were destroyed. The total cost was estimated to be more than A$13 million. Fortunately there was no loss of life, although a total of 134 injuries were reported. The size of the area burnt was more than 12,500 hectares (31,000 acres).
Below is a video showing the scar that the bushfire left on the landscape in this part of the Adelaide Hills.
I have been back here a few times since that terrible fire, and it is always pleasing to see more regrowth each time I visit. But it is a shadow of its former self. Much of the beautiful native gum and pine forest is gone.
Noel had kindly unlocked the gate for me so I drove into the property and parked my vehicle near the trig point and started unpacking my gear. It was just a short walk into a clearing and out with the deck chair and fold up table. For this activation I ran the Yaesu FT-857d, 40 watts output and the 80/40/20m linked dipole supported on a 7m heavy duty squid pole.
I was all set up and ready to go at around my posted activation time. I started off on 40m on 7.090 with the first station logged being SOTA die hard Peter VK3PF with a very nice 5/9 signal. Peter kindly spotted me on SOTAWatch and undoubtedly this resulted in the resulting callers. Second in the log was Steve VK7CW with a great 5/9 from Tasmania, followed by Ken VK3UH, and then Brett VK2VW. I had qualified the summit.
Mick VK3GGG/VK3PMG tried calling me from a SOTA summit, but despite a number of attempts we were unable to successfully exchange signal reports. Thanks for trying Mick.
I hadn’t been on air long when it started to spit with rain, so it was out with the bothy bag to shelter from the showers. As it was a weekday, callers were a little sparse, but I managed to log a total of 10 stations on 40m from VK2, VK3, VK5, and VK7, before I QSY’d to 3.610 on the 80m band.
Hans VK5YX in the southern suburbs of Adelaide had followed me down from 40m and was the first in the log on 80m. Hans had an equally strong 5/9 signal on 80m, as he did on 40m. I then worked three stations from the Mid North of South Australia, about 200 km to my north. They were Nev VK5WG, Bill VK5MBD, and Ian VK5IS. All were 5/9 plus, with Bill VK5MBD being particularly strong. Finally on 80m, I logged Peter VK5PET at Strathalbyn, south of Adelaide.
I then headed over to 14.310 on 20m and logged David VK5PL in the Barossa Valley, on either side of the UTC rollover. This was followed by Gerard VK2IO, Tim VK5ML, John ZL1BYZ in New Zealand, and finally John VK6NU over in Western Australia. It just started spitting with rain at this time, so I quickly ducked out from underneath the bothy bag and started to lower the squid pole, when I head Rick VK4RF/VK4HA calling me on 14.310. The squid pole was down and the antenna was almost lying on the ground, so I decided to continue to insert the links in the linked dipole, and headed back to 40m, hoping that Rick would find me there. It was now after the UTC rollover so there were a few extra points on offer for the chasers.
Prior to calling CQ I had a tune around the band and found Mick VK3GGG/VK3PMG on 7.090. Mick was on the top of his second summit for the day, Ben Nevis VK3/ VS-009, and this time I was able to hear Mick quite well. It’s always nice to get a Summit to Summit contact in the log.
I then headed up to 7.095 and called CQ. First taker was Rick VK4RF/VK4HA with a nice 5/7 signal from Queensland. I was pleased to get Rick in the log after not working him on 20m. I worked a further 6 stations from VK2, VK3, and VK5. This included William VK2NWB/p operating QRP with 5 watts (5/2 both ways). Also Perrin VK3XPT who was operating remote from his workplace, and Dominic VK2JNA/5 who was mobile near Coober Pedy heading to Alice Springs. Dominic was a very nice 5/7 signal to Mount Gawler.
I then headed back for another crack on 80m. I had received an SMS message from Adrian VK5FANA stating he could not hear me on 40m and would I mind trying 80. Adrian was a good 5/7 signal on 80m. I also logged John VK5BJE in the Adelaide Hills, and Steve VK5KSW at Wool Bay on the Yorke Peninsula.
I then packed away the 80/40/20m linked dipole and put up the 15m dipole and put a few calls out on 21.250. And I’m pleased I did try the 15m band as I logged 7 stations from VK4, VK5, and VK6.
I had a total of 41 stations in the log on 15, 20, 40 and 80m and it was time to pack up and head down to the house to say hi to Noel and Anne. I spent about an hour, having a chat and enjoying a coffee and biccies with this very lovely couple, whose home was fortunately spared during the bushfire of 2015.
Thanks to everyone who called me during the activation, and many thanks to those who took the time to spot me. It all certainly helps.
I worked the following stations:-
Summits on the Air (SOTA), 2017, <http://www.sota.org.uk/>, viewed 5th February 2017
Wikipedia, 2017, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Sampson_Flat_bushfires>, viewed 5th February 2017