Introduction to SOTA – Mt Taylor Activation

Following the VK1 SOTA Party, I received an email from Simon VK1FAAS expressing an interest in SOTA, so I offered Simon a chance to activate a VK1 summit using my gear.  This would be Simon’s first SOTA activation, I suggested we look at a local summit for Sunday 3 Aug 14.  I recommended Mt Taylor, it’s fairly central to Simon’s and my QTH, besides it has a tough 150 metre ascent over 1.2 km, nothing like a hard climb for your first activation.  🙂

Operating frequencies:

With Simon holding a Foundation level licence the plan was to work VHF DX into Sydney on 144.2 MHz, local operators on 2m simplex 146.500 FM and later spend some time on HF mainly 40m to work the usual VK chasers and have a chance to work Summit to Summit (S2S).   Activators who did post SOTA Alerts between 23:30 UTC and 02:00 UTC were Tony VK3CAT, Andrew VK1MBE and Bernard VK2IB.   There were a few ‘pop up’ surprise activators who kept Simon and I busy chasing S2S.

Equipment:  (a heavy activation)

Rigs: FT857D & FT817ND,
Antennas: 2m 4 element yagi, link EFHW antenna for 15/20/40 metres
Batteries: 2 x 4S LifePO4 4.2 Ah and 2 x 3S LiPo 2.2 Ah
Other gear: 7 metre squid pole, camera tripod, compass, log books, water and a small tarp

Weather forecast

A cold start -5 degrees at Tuggeranong, most likely -6 on Mt Taylor.
Sunny day and a light easterly breeze 10 to 15 km/h.

Ascent and Activation

Simon and I met at Waldock Street car park at 08:15, ambient temperature was -4.4 degrees with a 15 km/h breeze.  Apparent temperature was -7.2 degrees, that’s bloody cold.  The climb to the summit is a very steep 150 metre ascent over 1.2 km taking 20 minutes.  Mt Taylor Trig is a popular assembly place for people exercising or walking their dogs.  To avoid antenna entanglement with humans and pet dogs the best approach is to set up the SOTA station well clear of the Trig.  I chose an open space 50 metres to the north.  (see pictures)

Started the activation on 2m 144.200 USB beaming north-east to Sydney with the FT-857 set at 35 watts output.  After calling ‘CQ north-east’ for 3 or 4 minutes two stations replied VK2BXT Kerry and VK2TG Bob after working Bob I scaled back the power output to 10 watts for Simon.  Continued calling CQ when Matt VK1MA checked in followed by Mark VK1EM, Simon had made his first 2m SSB contacts and from a SOTA summit Next I called ‘CQ south-west’ to Melbourne nothing came of that, I did hear Gordon VK3EJ in Cobram working a station in Sydney.  On the back-end of the beam Geoff VK2UL called from Yass, rotated the beam facing north-west toward Yass watching the S-Meter as Geoff’s signal climbed quickly to 5-9+20 .  After a solid contact with Geoff I worked Rob VK1KW then Matt VK1MA for the new UTC day.  At 00:07 UTC Rod VK2TWR called from Nimmitabel, Rod’s signal was 5-7 while my signal as 5-5, good result for 10 watts.  Nimmitabel is 152 km due south of Canberra.

7m squid pole and EFHW set up

7m squid pole supporting a EFHW set up and ready

 2m 4el yagi

2m 4el yagi mounted on a camera tripod

FT857D & coax feed-line to the yagi

FT857D (bottom center) & coax feed-line to the 2m yagi.  In the background Mt Stromlo VK1/AC-043 with the Brindabella Ranges and Mt Coree VK1/AC-023 on the horizon

In the meantime Simon VK1FAAS pressed the microphone key at 23:30 UTC for 5 watts output from the FT-817ND into the EFHW to make his first HF QSO and HF SOTA activation.  Andrew VK2UH a fellow SOTA activator/chaser was Simon’s first contact followed by Peter VK3PF then Andrew VK2ARR.  Simon went on to work 23 more chasers in 30 minutes including a S2S with Andrew VK1MBE on Mt Stromlo, a great start to Simon’s first SOTA activation also a great introduction to the Andrews.

Following UTC date change Simon worked 15 chasers in quick time, 4 on 2m simplex 146.500 FM using his HT and 11 on 40m SSB operating the FT817ND.  With the main chaser group quiet I lowered the squid pole to access the antenna 15m link.  Opening the link changed the antenna to a 21 MHz EFHW. Called CQ on 21.255 MHz for 10 minutes, a big fat zip, nothing.

With nothing happening on 21 MHz I restored the 15m link for operation on 40m.  Next RRT signaled the presence of Tony VK3CAT on Arthurs Seat VK3/VC-031 rising above Port Philip Bay.  Tony had a strong signal to Mt Taylor for an easy copy 5-8 both ways.   Scanning around 40m we found Tony VH3VTH on 7.085 activating the Snowy River National Park  VKFF-455.  Simon and I worked Tony with a good signal report 5-8 for VKFF points.   Next RRT alerts were Bernard VK2IB on VK2/IR-009 and Rik VK3EQ on Mt Bogong VK3/NE-001, worked Bernard and Rik for the summit to summit points. I must mention I did hear a rare ‘on air’ Bernard to Bernard contact between Bernard VK2IB and Bernard VK3AV in Kinglake East.  🙂

At 01:40 UTC Simon and I packed up, took a quick descent to the car then headed to Woden for lunch.  🙂

Thanks chasers and activators for your contribution to Simon’s first SOTA activation,  a memorable one with 41 chasers complete with five summit to summits.  I look forward to hearing Simon activating another local VK1 summit soon.

FT817ND & feed-line to the EFHW QRP tuner

FT817ND & feed-line to the EFHW QRP tuner (top left)

Simon VK1FAAS working 2m simplex

Simon VK1FAAS working 2m simplex.  Mt Taylor trig in view behind the tree.