Yesterday afternoon I headed over to Mount Lofty summit, VK5/ SE-005, which is located within the Cleland Conservation Park. I had already activated this summit earlier in the year on two occasions, so there were no Summits on the Air (SOTA) activation points up for grabs for me. But I could earn 1 point for the VK5 National and Conservation Parks Award. My main motivation for heading to the summit was that I had seen a number of alerts on SOTA Watch for that afternoon, from activators in the United Kindgom and Europe, and I was hoping to make some ‘summit to summit’ contacts.
However, the weather was a bit ‘iffy’. We had received a large amount of rain overnight and early in the morning here in the Mount Lofty Ranges, and it was still drizzling after lunch. So I toyed with the idea of cancelling the activation. About an hour out from the activation, I jumped onto the weather bureau website and saw that the weather was supposed to clear up. So, with a degree of hesitation, I prepared the gear and loaded my equipment into the car, and headed towards Mount Lofty, which is just a short 15 minute drive from home.
For this activation, I decided to set up in a different spot as opposed to my previous activations. I normally set up my station on the eastern side of the summit away from the tourists at the lookout and the restaurant. Mount Lofty offers spectacular views of the city of Adelaide, so the summit is generally quite busy. But this time I headed very close to the summit obelisk, and set up my antenna a short distance from the Country Fire Service fire spotting tower. This was to be a big mistake!
Because I had driven into the activation zone, I had to walk out of the activation zone and back in again with all of my gear. Not easy work, considering I hard brought along the Yaesu FT-450 and my 44 amp hour power pack, so that I could run a bit of extra power (40 watts on 40m and about 60 watts on 20m). And the fact that I had put on a fair bit of weight during my recent trip to Europe. Fortunately there was a track leading down towards Waterfall Gully. So I walked down the track, and slowly, slowly walked back up the track to my operating position.
I took some minutes of well earned rest, under the watchful eye of some visitors to the restaurant, above me. This location was a little more of a challenge in setting up the station. My operating spot was on a slope which had a lot of fallen branches and rocks. I secured the 7 metre squid pole to a fallen tree stump, which I also used as a seat and a bench for the radio. I had some issues with the bottom cap of the squid pole coming apart, resulting in the squid pole de-telescoping. Time for some running repairs. And then with the squid pole falling down in the breeze, so I propped it up with a large rock. Not a great start to the activation!
Upon turning on the radio, there was quite a bit of noise on the 40m band. A lot more than I normally hear at Mount Lofty. Obviously emanating from the nearby tower with its array of communications equipment. My nominated frequency of 7.090 was impossible to work on. There was simply too much noise. Strike two! So I headed up to 7.095 after sending out an SMS message to some of the keen park hunters here in VK5.
My first contact was with Larry VK5LY in Renmark who had a very strong 5/9 plus signal. This was followed by Col VK5HCF in Mount Gambier who was also 5/9. My third contact was a bit of a surprise. I was contacted by Colin VK4FAAS who had a good 5/6 signal coming down from Brisbane in Queensland. My fourth contact was with regular park hunter, Brian VK5FMID, also located down in Mount Gambier.
Conditions on 40m appeared good, but not as good as they were on the weekend when signals were incredibly strong. The noise floor was certainly not enjoyable either. And the fallen log was not the most comfortable. But I pressed on, and made a further 10 contacts on 40m SSB into VK3, VK5, and VK7. I did note that there was not the normal pile up, most likely due to it being a week day. After the first 7 contacts on 40m, I had to QSY up to 7.098, due to the Kandos Net on 7.093.
After working Peter VK3FPSR, the SOTA Goat application on my i-phone bleated, alerting me to the fact that Mike 2E0YYY was now on 20m on a summit in England. So with no further takers on 40m, I lowered the squid pole and took out the crocodile clip links and then re-erected the squid pole. I changed bands to 20m, but was greeted with noise, noise, and more noise. Much worse than 40m. It was clear that I had to change locations. Strike three, but not quite out!
So, with a fair degree of frustration, I quickly took down the antenna, and lugged the equipment back to the car and drove a short distance away to the eastern side of the summit. Where again, I had to walk out and walk back into the activation zone with all the heavy gear. By the time I got back to my operating spot, I was exhausted. I layed down on the ground to recuperate, only to be approached by a bushwalker to make sure I was still alive.
After re-erecting the antenna, I tuned to 14.333 and heard Mike 2E0YYY calling CQ from SOTA peak, Shining Tor, G/ SP-004. Mike was not as strong as I normally hear him at home. However he still had a good 5/5 signal and pleasingly, the noise floor here at the new location, had dramatically dropped. Although it was noisier than usual. I called Mike and received a 5/7 signal report from him. I was very excited to get a summit to summit (S2S) in the UK. Although I have worked a lot of DX from summits, I have not worked anywhere near the number of DX S2S contacts that some of the other Australian SOTA activators have.
I sas Barry M0IML also spotted on SOTAWatch and I tuned to Barry’s frequency, but his signal was a little too low to work. For whatever reason, the noise on 20m was a little higher than normal at Mount Lofty. I also saw a spot for Allan GW4VPX, but he too was just too weak for me to work. This was very frustrating.
I then moved to 14.315 and put out a CQ call. I was greeted by Borek, OK1SDE in the Czech Republic with a nice strong 5/9 signal. I went to log Borek, only to find that in my haste to get to the 2nd operating spot, I had left my watch back at the original operating spot. Strike four, if you can have such a thing! So I was forced to use my i-phone to check the time. This was to cause me problems later as well, with my phone going flat.
Five QSOs later I was thrilled to receive a call from Barry, M0IML who was portable on SOTA peak, Detling Hill, G/ SE-013. Barry was not as strong as Mike, but was still a good 5/4 to Mount Lofty. His signal had come up considerably from when I first heard him. I received a 5/5 signal report from Barry who was one of the activators I was hoping to log during the afternoon.
This was followed by a contact with Hans DL6UHA, who informed me that I was his 1st ever VK summit. This was followed by contacts into the USA, Belgium and VK1.
My next contact was with Martin OE5REO who was portable on SOTA peak, Grillenparz, OE/ OO-316. Martin’s signal was a bit low (5/3), but as the noise floor was much lower here, I was able to hear Martin without too many difficulties. I received a 5/5 signal report from Martin. Martin was using just 10 watts into an inverted vee dipole.
This contact was immediately followed by a call from Erwin, OE5PEN, who was portable on SOTA peak, Kaiblinger Kogel, OE/ OO-325. Erwin’s signal was stronger than Martin’s. Erwin was a good 5/7 and I received a 5/7 signal report back from Erwin. I was absolutely thrilled to now have four S2S contacts in the log.
I continued to work a steady flow of callers, including John VK6NU in Western Australia, and Ed DD5LP in Germany. However, the band was a little noisier than usual, and I found that signals were either very good or extremely low. I had enormous problems with one station, G0XQX or similar, who sadly I just couldn’t pull out of the noise. And there were lots of other stations who I know were calling, but I was just unable to receive well enough to copy.
I was pleased to make contact with Kurt, ON3VHK, who was operating portable with 50 watts, from his camper van. I was also Kurt’s first ever VK contact. Kurst has sent me some photos (as seen below) of his operating set up.
John VK5BJE and his wife Jenny then arrived. I had spoken with John a bit earlier in the day and informed him of my intentions to activate the summit and the park, and I had invited him to join me if he was free. They had even brought along an iced coffee for me. So the ever keen, John took control of the mic and made some contacts, while Jenny and I returned to my original operating spot and retrieved my watch. There it was, in the spot that I had left it. At least I was out of a bit of trouble when I got home!
After returning to John, Jenny and I and a bit of a chat. Out of one ear I heard John being called by Andrew VK1NAM who was on SOTA peak, Mount Stromlo, VK1/ AC-043. After John had logged Andrew, I also spoke with Andrew who had a beautiful 5/9 plus signal coming in from the Australian Capital Territory. Andrew had called me on 20m earlier but it was a real struggle to try to make the contact. Unfortunately we were not helped by the European chasers who were trying to relay at the time. But there were certainly no issues here on 40m with hearing Andrew.
John continued on, and a few callers later was called by another Andrew. This time, Andrew VK1MBE who was on SOTA peak, Mount Ainslee VK1/ AC-040. I also logged Andrew, who again had a fantastic 5/9 plus signal.
John and I then took a break from the radio and the three of us chatted for a while. Whilst doing so, keeping a watchful eye on a big koala that had placed himself in a very precarious position on the limb of a gum tree, about 30 metres away from us. It was a long way down to the ground, and we were waiting for the sound of the limb snapping under his weight. Fortunately this didn’t occur. John and Jenny then headed off home to the warmth.
It was now approaching 5.30 p.m. and I toyed with the idea of whether I should stay or head home as well. But my eagerness took control, and I put out another call on 40m to be greeted by Brian VK3MCD. Lamont ZL2ALK then called in with a very good 5/9 plus 10 db signal. This was followed by Julie VK3FOWL, Mark VK7FMPR, and Joe VK3YSP.
I decided to head back to 20m and see if the long path to Europe was still open. And I am pleased I did. Despite the fact it was getting a bit late, and starting to get dark, the 20m band appeared to have improved, with some very strong signals coming in from Europe and the United Kingdom. Those noise level appeared to have abated a little.
As I tuned across the band, I heard John, EA7/G1WUU calling CQ with no takers, so I gave him a call. John had a beautiful 5/9 signal and I received a 5/7 signal report back from England. John and I had a bit of a ‘chinwag’ for a while, before I wished him 73. I then decided to try my luck and call CQ on 14.201 mhz. First taker was Tom G0LVX, followed by Bjoern DG2BHB and then Derek MI0SDR in Northern Ireland. Pat K4OAR from North Carolina then called me, and this was followed by Chris, N1GHZ/KH6 portable in Hawaii. Oliver F4FSV then called, using just 5 watts and a dipole. Oliver had a nice steady 5/3 signal.
A steady flow of callers continued from Europe, with very strong signals. I was a little surprised, as it was starting to get dark, and normally by now the 20m band had closed for me. So it was a real surprise to get a call from Sal, TI2SSO in Costa Rica (5/7 send and 5/5 received).
Daylight now was rapidly fading, and it was starting to get very cold. But conditions were just too good to go QRT. I was having too much fun. I continued to work a steady flow of callers from Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Scotland, France, Russia, and Spain. And I was then pleasantly surprised to receive a call from my old mate, Eddy ON6ZV. Eddy is mates with Marnix OP7M, who I had stayed with during my recent trip to Europe. Other than being an amateur, Eddy is also a police officer, like me. And we had spent a lot of time with Eddy and his wife Carine whilst we were in Belgium. So it was a real pleasure to have a chat to Eddy who was a good 5/8 signal. Eddy returned a 5/5 signal report to me.
And then a further 6 QSOs down the log I received a call from Albert, ON2WAC, who I had also visited whilst I was in Belgium. Albert was a little weaker than Eddy, but still had a good 5/5 signal to Mount Lofty. Albert gave me a 5/7 signal report.
It was now totally dark, and I had mountain bikers passing me with their lights on, going for a night ride. But the European stations kept calling with good signals, so I persevered despite the cold. I’m pleased I did, because the word must have got out in Belgium. I was called by Marnix OP7M with a very nice 5/7 signal, despite the fact that it was total darkness, and the local time was 6.53 p.m. Marnix even lowered his power down to 30 watts and I was still able to hear him well with a 5/4 signal. And then Wim ON7AB called in with a very strong 5/9 signal. I had also met Wim whilst in Belgium so I was particularly pleased with being able to make contact with Wim from Mount Lofty.
Before I knew it, the time had crept up to 7.00 p.m. local time and I was now freezing. There were still some European stations calling, but I decided to head to 40m quickly and I joined Roy VK7ROY on the 7.130 DX Net. Whilst on the net, I made a total of 14 contacts including three into New Zealand, two into the United States of America, three into VK7, one into VK2, two into VK6, one into VK8, and two into VK3.
My fingers had almost frozen over by this time and I informed Roy that I would be leaving the net, but that I would be on 7.145 for any last ‘desperadoes’ that would like Mount Lofty and Cleland CP in their log. I worked Terry VK3UP/p, Mark VK1EM, followed by Adrian VK4FBMW, Brian VK5FMID, and VK2FJ, before deciding that it was time to pack up and head home to a warm bath and a bottle of Cab Sav.
I had a total of 104 contacts in the log. I was very satisfied. This was one of the best SOTA and park activations I had ever experienced, with some amazing conditions on 20m. Despite some hiccups, including a lost but recovered watch, and some very sore legs, I headed home with a real smile on my face.
The following stations were worked:-