SOTA – VK1AD portable 70cm update #21 – Castle Hill

Sunday 7 August 2016, planned SOTA activation of Castle Hill, 942 metres ASL, 2 points on private property.  Maidenhead Grid Locator QF44MM

Possible Summit to Summit contacts:  34 and far too many to detail here.   Today VK1 is holding the 2016 VK1 SOTA Winter QSO Party where Australian (VK) and New Zealand (ZL) SOTA activators get to freeze their butts off to secure highly sort-after Summit to Summit (S2S) points pre and post UTC day change.  There are two days in the VK SOTA calendar where SOTA activators rule the amateur radio airwaves, the first is the VK1 SOTA Winter QSO Party and the second opportunity in VK is the 1st of January, working the last hour of 31 December, 2300 to 2359 UTC followed by the 1st hour 0000 to 0100 UTC 1 January.  The latter offering the SOTA activator the opportunity to secure double activator points on one day.  The VK1 SOTA Winter QSO Party is about radio amateurs having lots of fun with radios & antennas on hills and mountain peaks, something not to be taken too seriously, after all SOTA is not a contest, right?

For this year’s SOTA QSO Party I selected Castle Hill 24 km south-west of Canberra GPO.  A major benefit of Castle Hill is the large open space on the summit, no kidding you can fit a full size 1.8 MHz 1/2 wave dipole (80 metres long) along the length of summit.  In my case, I plan to deploy a 3.5 MHz 1/2 wave dipole (38 metres long) supported by a 9 metre squid pole.

Castle Hill is on private property which in VK means I must have approval from the land owner to first access their property and second operate my amateur radio gear at Castle Hill Trig station.  My approach with the property owner is to formally write, yes I wrote a letter some four weeks earlier outlining my reasons for seeking access to Castle Hill and my preferred timings on the summit.

To show the land owner my request is genuine, I included a copy of my VK amateur radio licence issued by the ACMA.  My approach to seeking access, which some may consider old-fashioned or out dated, has paid off again.   The owner called me on Wednesday 3 August, thanked me for the letter and granted me permission to access the summit.   You might agree, my approach to private property owners is helping to promote amateur radio in the Canberra community.  Promoting amateur radio in local communities is a subject of ongoing interest to the board members of Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA).  Amateur Radio (AR) and its purpose is not well known to the average Joe.  Unfortunately its not until we experience a natural disaster that communities in Australia become aware of the benefits of having radio amateurs, who through having operational field deployment experience, like SOTA, can quickly deploy a fully functioning HF and VHF communications network in support of local government and emergency services.

So back to the Castle Hill.   Having secured access to the hill, I sought interest from the VK1 SOTA crew offering the guys the opportunity to access a private property summit, occasions like this are few and far between.  Within minutes of posting an email to the VK1 SOTA Group, Tony VK1VIC jumped on-board.

Our focus for this SOTA activation is to chase as many VK and ZL summits as possible, primarily on 80, 40 and 20m bands. Tony’s current chaser score is within 100 points of qualifying for the SOTA Shack Sloth award that’s 1000 chaser points.  We’re both very keen to overdoes and ‘max out’ on the S2S points, that’s what SOTA addicts do.   Chasing ZL summits will be restricted to the 20m band 14 MHz.  If time permits and the opportunity arises, I will seek out four VK1 chasers on 70cm 439.00 MHz simplex FM mode.  One way to achieve a 70 cm qualification is to work four local S2S contacts. Lets see how I go?

Castle Hill SOTA 70cm activation
Radio: Yaesu FT-817ND, UHF 70 cm frequency 439.000 MHz FM
Power Level: QRP 5 watts
Antenna: 7el 70cm yagi (see pics)
Distance to Canberra GPO (VK1):  24 km (15 miles) at 21 degrees with visual line-of-sight
RF Signal Interference (QRM) on the summit: Nil
Mobile phone service: Telstra 4G three signal bars
SOTA Alert: Yes
Date posted alert:
  3 August 2016
Notice Period: 4 days
Outcome: Qualified Castle Hill on 70cm FM  🙂
Duration to qualify on 70 cm:  2 hours and 23 minutes, that’s right, over 2 hours to find four chasers on 439.00 FM.  Yes, I admit I was distracted by the number of summit to summits contacts to be made on the HF bands.  🙂

My 2016 70cm challenge: qualified 22 from 24 summits activated

Equipment: In addition to the FT-817 mentioned above, the human pack-horses (that’s Tony and I) carried the following gear to the summit, I consider this to be a heavy activation:

  • Yaesu FT-857D
  • 2 * Dual Band 2m/70cm HT
  • 10 metre squid pole
  • 7 metre squid pole
  • 4S 8.4 Ah LiFePO4 battery
  • 2 * 3S 2.4 Ah LiPo batteries
  • 2m/70cm Dual Band Yagi and Tripod Mount
  • 40/30/20/10/6m linked 1/2 wave dipole
  • 80/40/30/20/10/6m linked 1/2 wave dipole
  • antenna switch and a 300 mm length of RG58AU fitted with PL259 connectors
  • 2 * 10 metre lenghts of RG58AU
  • 1 * 5 metre length of RG58AU
  • iPad to monitor SOTAWatch
  • log books
  • water and food for the morning
  • rain jackets
  • a range of RF connector and other unnecessary bits and pieces

Weather on the summit: 8 to 10 degrees C (46 to 50 F), overcast cloudy day with light winds, 30% chance of light rain.
Water consumption 1 litre.   Winter bonus: Nil

Left home at 7 am for a 10 minute drive to Tony’s place then on to the township of Tharwa.  From Tharwa the property main gate is a two minute drive along Tidbinbilla Road.  From the main gate we headed north-west for 3 km to a parking area at the base of Castle Hill.  The ascent is 200 metres over 1.6 km taking 25 minutes.  We made the summit Trig by 22:25 UTC 35 minutes before our planned activation at 2300 UTC (09:00 am) local time.

Photos: © Copyright 2016 Andrew VK1AD

view north-east looking out across Canberra suburbs

view north-east from Castle Hill summit looking out across Canberra suburbs. In the center of the picture is Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037 at 850 metres ASL.


Tony VK1VIC operating the FT-817ND on 2m 146.500 FM

By way of explanation, the radio and antenna arrangement is:

  • Yaesu FT-817ND dedicated to VHF/UHF simplex frequencies
  • Yaesu FT-857D dedicated to HF operations via an antenna switch to two inverted V linked dipole antennas
  • 80m Inverted V linked dipole is dedicated to 3.610 MHz
  • 40m Inverted V linked dipole is assigned to 7.110 and 14.310 MHz, a 30 second change over via the element links
  • I did say SOTA isn’t a contest..
Dual band yagi aimed at radio amateurs in Canberra

Dual band 2m/70cm yagi aimed at VK1 radio amateurs operating from SOTA peaks around Canberra.

When chasing S2S contacts, operating two radios has its benefits but sometimes confuses the chaser or fellow activator.  Tony and I had been operating the FT-857D on 3.610 MHz for 20 minutes, we had made a number of successful S2S contacts with stations in VK1, VK2 and VK3 including Brian VK3MCD/P on the summit of Mt Hotham (VK3/VE-006), a 10 pointer.   While leaving the 857D turned on and tuned to 3.610 MHz, I posted a spot for 70cm FM, this time using the 817ND.  Shortly after posting the 70cm spot I heard Ron VK3AFW calling CQ SOTA from Mt Gordon (VK3/VN-027) on 3.610 MHz. I switched back to the 857D to answer Ron.  Ron was surprised to hear me respond thinking he had missed Tony and I after seeing the 70cm spot.  By the sound of Ron’s voice, I could tell he had a smile on his face  🙂    Ron was very grateful and thanked Tony and I for returning to 80m to complete the S2S contact.   Next time I have two rigs on the summit, I will post a spot similar to: ‘two radios, operating on 80m and 70cm’ or what ever the frequencies may be.  More practice at spotting useful detail.

Castle Hill - Summits on the Air (SOTA)

In the center of the picture is Castle Hill Trig station supporting an 80m 1/2 wave dipole, which dwarfs the 40m linked dipole closest to the camera.

smaller 7 metre squid pole is supporting a linked dipole used for 20m 14 MHz and 40m 7 MHz

The shorter 7 metre squid pole, supported by three guy ropes is supporting a linked dipole which we used for 20m (14.310 MHz) and 40m (7.110 MHz).  In the background Mt Tennent VK1/AC-025 at 1380 metres ASL dominates the southern skyline.  Further south rain is falling across Namadgi National Park.

view from the east

view from the south side of the summit

Below is an extract of my VHF/UHF SOTA log.  Having a line-of-sight view of Canberra suburbs made life easy working three local activators for S2S points plus one chaser, Wayne VK1WN.  🙂

Extract from VK1AD SOTA Activator Log:  7 August 2016 – Castle Hill 2m and 70cm bands

Time Call Band Mode Notes
23:38z VK1MBE/2 144MHz FM Andrew S2S VK2/ST-001 S59 R59 146.5 48 km
01:02z VK1ATP/2 433MHz FM Paul S2S VK2/ST-008 S59 R59 439.00 34 km
01:10z VK1DA/P 433MHz FM Andrew S2S VK1/AC-040 S59 R59 439.00 26 km
01:22z VK2MWP/P 433MHz FM Andrew S2S VK1/AC-043 S59 R59 439.00 18 km
01:23z VK1WN 433MHz FM Wayne S59 R59 439.00

Summit to Summits (S2S) contacts on HF Bands

The band of choice for Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) was 80m, providing excellent propagation in the ground wave zone out to 400 km for VK1, VK2 and VK3 S2S points.  The 40m band offered good propagation to activators > 500 km to 1100 km range.  Check the S2S distances for each band, you can visualize 80m signals filling the ground wave and NVIS zones.

I missed three of the early enthusiastic activators on 40m, Dave VK4DD was one and I know I missed working Paul VK3HN & Nick VK3ANL.  Starting at 2300 UTC there were 12 VK/ZL spots on SOTAWatch in the first 15 minutes.  By the time I had worked 6 S2S/chasers on 3.5 MHz, Paul’s original spot @ 2304 UTC had ‘refreshed’ off the iPad screen and I didn’t think to scroll down the page.  It was quite difficult to keep up with the flow and volume of spots, critical to knowing who is on a particular band/frequency and for how long.  Note to self, more practice required.

UTC Call Band Mode Summit Distance (km) Points
23:00 VK2IO/P 3.5MHz SSB South Black Range 46 8
23:08 VK3CAT/P 3.5MHz SSB Mt Mitchell 373 6
23:09 VK1DA/P 3.5MHz SSB Mt Ainslie 26 1
23:13 VK1MA/P 3.5MHz SSB Black Mountain 24 1
23:15 VK1DI/P 3.5MHz SSB Yellow Rabbit Hill 21 1
23:18 VK3PF/P 3.5MHz SSB Spion Kopje 393 4
23:21 ZL2AJ/P 14MHz SSB Pukemako 2371 1
23:23 ZL2ATH/P 14MHz SSB Mount Crawford 2330 1
23:32 VK5PAS/P 7MHz SSB Black Bullock Hill 980 1
23:42 VK4DD/P 7MHz SSB The Knobby 949 1
23:48 VK2MWP/1 7MHz SSB Mt Stromlo 18 1
23:51 VK7LTD/P 7MHz SSB Mt Phipps 808 2
0:03 VK1MBE/2 7MHz SSB Mt Cowangerong 48 8
0:05 VK1DI/P 7MHz SSB Yellow Rabbit Hill 21 1
0:11 VK1MA/P 7MHz SSB Black Mountain 24 1
0:13 VK1ATP/2 7MHz SSB Baldy Range 34 8
0:15 VK5PAS/P 7MHz SSB Black Bullock Hill 980 1
0:27 ZL2ATH/P 14MHz SSB Mount Crawford 2330 1
0:35 VK1MBE/2 14MHz SSB Mt Cowangerong 48 0
0:37 VK1DI/P 14MHz SSB Yellow Rabbit Hill 21 0
0:40 VK3MCD/P 3.5MHz SSB Mt Hotham 238 10
0:43 VK2IB/3 3.5MHz SSB Mt Granya 174 4
0:53 VK2IO/P 3.5MHz SSB South Black Range 46 8
1:04 VK3AFW/P 3.5MHz SSB Mt Gordon 373 4
1:07 VK3KIM/P 3.5MHz SSB Mt Gordon 373 0
1:11 VK3LED/P 7MHz SSB Mt Moliagul 503 2
1:14 VK3ARH/P 7MHz SSB Mt William 610 6
1:17 VK2MWP/P 7MHz FM Mt Stromlo 18 1
1:24 VK5CZ/P 7MHz SSB The Dutchmans Stern 1080 6

Chaser contacts on HF Bands

The early bird chasers were quick off the mark for 2 SOTA points.   Chasers in VK1, VK2 and VK3 found me on 80m.  VK7 chasers Steve VK7CW and Ian VK7IS at 800 km were strong on 40m well outside of the 80m 400 km NVIS zone.   On 20m Greg VK8GM in Alice Springs had a solid 5-9 ‘armchair’ signal, I swear Greg was sitting next to me!

UTC Call Band Mode Notes
23:05z VK1MTS 3.5MHz SSB Roald S59 R59 3.600
23:11z VK1DW 3.5MHz SSB Dean S59 R59 3.600
23:11z VK3SQ 3.5MHz SSB Geoff S58 R55 3.600
23:14z VK2NP 3.5MHz SSB Cliff S59 R57 3.600
23:41z VK2NSS 7MHz SSB Steve S59 R55
23:45z VK1MT 7MHz SSB Matt S59 R59
23:45z VK7IS 7MHz SSB Ian S59 R59
00:00z VK7CW 7MHz SSB Steve S59 R59
00:31z VK8GM 14MHz SSB Greg S59 R59 14.310
00:48z VK1MTS 3.5MHz SSB Roald S59 R59 3.610

Summary of 33 S2S contacts:

  • 80m – 11
  • 40m – 13
  • 20m – 5
  • 2m – 1
  • 70cm – 3
  • S2S Points – 100   😎

Did Tony achieve SOTA Shack Sloth status at Castle Hill?   Check Tony’s blog for details.  Thanks Tony for your company, we had a terrific time and froze our butts off!

My SOTA VHF and UHF distance records
No 2m or 70cm distance records set today.  All VHF/UHF chasers are within a 50 km (31 mile) radius of Castle Hill.

Reference / Links
2015 VK1 SOTA Winter QSO Party – Webbs Ridge 30 August 2015

2014 VK1 SOTA Winter QSO Party – Castle Hill 27 July 2014

2013 VK1 SOTA Winter QSO Party – Castle Hill 11 August 2013

Next activation report – ?

6 thoughts on “SOTA – VK1AD portable 70cm update #21 – Castle Hill

  1. Pingback: SOTA – 40m link Inverted V dipole antenna upgrade for 3.5 MHz | Get out of the Radio Shack and Live Life

  2. Pingback: SOTA – Preferred Operating Frequencies | Get out of the Radio Shack and Live Life

  3. Nice work guys. I do not see any photos of the Sherpas that had to haul all that stuff up the hill for you. Andrew I assume this battery was used for the 857D – 4S 8.4 Ah LiFePO4 battery? any info on it? Thanks

  4. Thanks for inviting me along on the trip Andrew.

    It was a great activation.

    Great write up too.


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