02112018 – VK9ARH in Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)

WWFF Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)

IMG 7132

Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, lying south of Java, Indonesia. My wife has wanted to see the crabs for a while now we booked 7 days from 30th November 2018 (30/11 to 7/12) timed to see the red crab migration.

The crab migration starts when the wet season rains have established. The crabs’ breeding timetable is fixed around the phases of the moon. Spawning (the dropping of their eggs into the sea) must occur before sunrise on spring tides during the last quarter of the moon. We booked for the start of December hoping to see either a late migration or a times spawning.  

Passports and visas are not required when travelling to Christmas Island from the Australian mainland for Australians. You can use photographic identification such as a drivers licence. You are processed through international customs at Perth and Cocos Keeling Islands. We did see a couple using WA drivers licence and it required the assistance of additional customs officers to process.  Never keen on attracting attention from such officials so we took and used our passports.

Looking forward to the trip as the island is a prime site to play radio;

  • SOTA – VK9/CH-001 – Murray Hill
  • WWFF – VKFF-0098
  • IOTA – OC-002 Christmas in Christmas Island
  • DXCC – OC / VK9X
  • Grid Square OH29

Whilst a contact from the hotel balcony would qualify for IOTA and DXCC I was keen on the SOTA and WWFF sites. The island is 135 square kilometres in size with the Christmas Island National Park accounting for 85 square kilometres. So whilst the National Park makes up almost two thirds of the territory, it is thick monsoonal rainforest so provides challenges finding suitable operating positions. Any cleared area is likely mining lease so has to be avoided. Several beaches on offer to the east would provide suitable places for activations with a clear view to mainland Australia.

Secured the callsign VK9ARH for use whilst there. 

There is a top map available (https://data.gov.au/dataset/christmas-island-1-30-000-scale-topographic-map)  which you can buy from the Christmas Tourist information centre for $15. I downloaded, printed then imported into basecamp and studied in advance. 

Map 001

This is a good as map as any to gain an understanding of the layout of the island. Both Google maps and Garmin Birds eye are less than useful as they are aerial views and show clouds in the areas of interest. Murray Hill is to the left in thick vegetation, National parks covers the bulk of the island except for township. Two roads with an interconnect give access to all corners. 

Additional information for amateurs visiting Christmas Island can be obtained from the Christmas Island Amateur Radio Club (VK9XX). Doug, VK9XD was happy to assist during planning and crucial with verifying access to Mt Murray. 

I don’t understand why is is an Australian territory as was there a definite lack of venomous creatures there but is an naturalists paradise with the abundant unique crab, bird and marine life.

Banner 001

There are a few things to watch out for;

Danger

Equipment

This was a tourist visit not a high end DX-Expedition, as a result my equipment had to fit within normal passenger luggage requirements. A Pelican 1485 AIR was used to protect;

which came in at 9.5Kg. The SOTABEAMS Compact heavy-duty 7 m mast was included in the larger bag which doubled role of also taking clothes and other stuff apparently needed for a holiday.

So after 24hrs including a stop in the middle of nowhere for additional fuel we arrived on Christmas Island via Perth and Cocos Keeling Islands. 

We had a unit in Mango Tree Lodge in Settlement off Gaze Road. The National Parks boundaries were on the other side of the road (20m away) and whilst clear undergrowth, was a vertical cliff wall and thick with trees. Contacts from unit would not qualify as VKFF. Operating from the area between road and cliff also not desirable.

Christmas Island has 2G Telstra mobile phone coverage but no 3G. This sucked and reminded me how fortunate we are with the coverage we experienced in VK from parks and from peaks. There was wireless from the unit via a private provider and at $20@G used as needed. 

UTC 2018-12-02 0145 & 2018-12-06 0420 – FT8 IOTA – OC-002 Christmas in Christmas Island & DXCC – OC / VK9X

After a last minute discord conversation it was decided to downloaded FT8 software onto my computer. The idea was to operate from the unit providing contacts for VK9 and giving me an propagation indication. Contacts were secured as far away as Russia with ASIA being the dominate area. Not surprising as using a 20m end fed from second floor balcony.  This proved to be interesting but did not spend a lot of time chasing as there were better activities to be had.

UTC  2018-12-09 0400 – WWFF VKFF-0098 Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)

Located a spot  further around Gaze road where a shoulder clearing would qualify for WWFF.This was a parking spot for access to the cliff.

Setup the vertical and started calling CW WWFF. The ground was as hard as concrete but given basalt rock, not suprising.

IMG 7063
Vertical on Murray Hill
Antenna 001
Vertical in the clear

It was slow going but secured VK and then as the sun dropped the EU CW started coming in. Too fast and marginal for contacts.  Had a 6:30 booking for tea (limited sites and spots) so packed up happy to secure 6 CW and 5 SSB contacts with VK, HS and VU over the hour. This proved that 15w into the vertical was going to do the job.  

UTC 2018-12-05 0930 – SOTA VK9/CH-001 Murray Hill

Ok here we go, the real McCoy. Checked out access to the start point as were in the area to access Martin Point, Hugh’s Date waterfall and the Dales the day before. First view of the foliage to be navigated

I had a track provided by Doug who approached Christmas Island Phosphates (CIRP) to clarify access. Murray Hill had been mined for an extended period. The track was 850m to the summit from behind the mining site through the thick vegetation. We parked the car 200m higher as the Winifred track was closed due to crab movements. A small  goshawk came out and perched in the tree watching us why we got ready to go not at all concerned by us.

Foliage 001
Deceptive view to ‘clearing’

 It took 2hrs to make it to a ‘clearing’ in the activation zone. That not because we decided to have a coffee on the way but the foliage. Whilst it may look   clear to the left, the area contained ferns and regrowth taller than I. It was cleaner to navigate the ferns.2018-12-06 10:57:22 I went through the foliage first bashing a path for Michele who was behind me dodging the ferns. We were dressed head to foot and had even sourced gardening gloves to protect hands. It is tough going. 

IMG 7071
Robber Crab on Mt Murray

Once in the zone I selected a ‘clear’ site and setup the vertical.  

 Could not spot. So called on 20 and 30m

A robber crab came out and checked us out. He had an impressive set of antenna but no valid callsign no no contact made.  

 Could hear FT8 and several ‘intruders’. Could not hear any conversations with callsigns to crash so kept calling. After calling on 14.062 and 10.110 with no response decided to drop the vertical and run up the 20m end fed. I was not groin g to get the 10/80 up. Not enough room. Hoping for some NVIS as desperate for a contact.  Unbeknown to us at the time I was picked up in Singapore (9V). It was 16:30 local and we had to pull out as only 2hrs before sunset and it would get darker quick out here and we were already pushing our luck

2018-12-06 10:57:222018-12-06 10:57:22UTC 2018-12-05 9:29:02 SOTA VK9/CH-001 (VKFF-0098) – VK9ARH/P on 14.062 cw (VK9/CH-001) *[RBNHole] at 9V1RM

 So with no contacts and no time left pulled the antenna down and headed back. 

Could not maintain a GPS fix on the way back. Believe due to the combination of thick foliage and now menacing clouds. It was back to old school compass and follow bearing. Given I had spent too much time studying the maps knew where the roads were knew what direction to head but the foliage was madness and knew we were heading off course.  

 It was a tough trip back. I’m use to such a task but Michele not. She kept up not complaining as we pushed on and with the aid of torches finally a GPS fix we hit the road only 50m from our starting point. Headed back to the car and back to town.

It was a two beer night with fish and chips for tea.

This site whilst only 850m from tracks will be a challenge to activate.

Apparently in 1857 the crew of the Amethyst attempted to reach the summit but failed. We reached the summit but failed to contact anyone. Doing better than them.

 UTC 2018-12-06 1050 – WWFF VKFF-0098 Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)

I had noted a couple of potential sites off Murray Road that were clear and not a mining site. Off we went to have our plans crushed by road closures. The crabs were moving and as a result more closures. This was not unexpected as spent the day before down at the Dales and there were crabs on the move everywhere. Decided to activate from the beach off to the east. Clouds were developing and it had been forecasted to rain all week. There was a section on the road to Dollys Beach that I did not want to be negotiating in the wet so checked the map and headed back up and then out to Lilly Beach.

Antenna 003

First time operating near the ocean for me. Setup the vertical and was rewarded with great reports. Clear view to VK. 15m and 20m worked. 22 contacts in the hour including DX. Stayed until sunset as intended to be out before dawn to watch crab spawning. 

Great trip. It didn’t rain until we were on the plane leaving so no mass migration or spawning. Saw enough crabs moving, several spawning and birds to keep us happy. 

24hrs later we were home. Whilst we were gone there were fires again near Scotsburn. No impact to us but back to the real world.  

112018 – VK3/VE-047,VK3/VE-045,VK3/VE-050 & VK3/VE-191

09/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-047 (Rocky Ridge) – WWFF Alpine National Park (VKFF-0619)

10/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-045 (Eagle Peaks) – WWFF Alpine National Park (VKFF-0619)

10/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-050 (Mt Sunday) – WWFF Alpine National Park (VKFF-0619)

11/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-191 (VK3/VE-191)

20181110 114723

I’ve had my eye on VK3/VE-046 Governor for a while. Having activated most in the area is it untidy at least not to attempt an activation. The Governor has only been activated by Wayne VK3WAM in September 2012.This is a cat 5 hike. As a result I was not prepared to go out alone so put out a call for interested parties. There were several responses and once the dates were finalised both Tony VK3CAT and David VK3IL in a position to join. The planning process commenced. A weekend after Melb cup was selected to ensure the roads were open and there would also be traffic through the area assuring any access issues would be addressed. This aligned with the annual KRMNPA weekend. Whilst the Alpine would not be the most sought after site, we were glad to align the activations to the weekend as there would be a large pool of chasers available.

The original plan was to do a through hike from 8 mile gap on Brooks Rd to EaglesPeaks, then pickup The Governor and out through VK3/VE-075 to finish at Wren’s Flat. After reading Waynes Blog, calculating distances and the amount of water required and reviewing hiking sites, it was decided to go with plan B from the start. Plan B was to break the trip at The Governor and tackle VK3/VE-075 as a seperate activation. Plan B also did not depend of leaving a car at Wren’s Flat.

So it was decided to meet at 8 Mile Flat camp ground evening of Friday the 9th.

09/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-047 (Rocky Ridge) – WWFF Alpine National Park (VKFF-0619)

Drove up Friday. Meet up with Tony at Mansfield. decided to leave my car at Mansfield and proceed down Howqua Trak to Brocks Rd. We were on schedule so keep going and proceeded down Bluff Link to pick up VK3/VE-047 Rocky Ridge.  

Rocky Ridge is a straight forward operation and bit over 1.5K each way. There is a track to follow but essentially head up to the ridge line then turn right until you find a site suitable for deploying your antenna. Qualified on CW and headed back to 8 Mile Flat camp ground 

David VK3IL joined us at 8 Mile Flat camp ground. This is a great spot as within the Alpine NP and excellent faculties. There is a small creek to cross which is AWD and you can camp on the either side of the creek should the water be up. 

10/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-045 (Eagle Peaks) – WWFF Alpine National Park (VKFF-0619)

We were on the road early Sat morning for a fairly quick drive up to 8 Mile Gap where we left the cars. David had tighter time lines that Tony and myself so needed two for seperate exits. There is enough room for a couple of cars here but you would not want too many. After getting the packs out we locked up and headed up Eagle Peaks track.

P1000536

It’s a clear run but along a ridge line. The start is up but gets more intense as you get closer to Eagles Peeks.    

DSCN9556

We arrived at Eagle Peaks in good time and setup along the ridge line. No point in worrying which way the dipole is aligned as limited choices. Started calling. KRMNPA weekend ensured chasers. Once qualified and after reviewing the terrain from this vantage point, we packing up we headed on through Eagles Peaks and towards the saddle leading to The Governor. It was slow but comfortable going.There were sections of bush then steep ledges requiring careful progress. 

P1000542Eventually we hit small but challanging cliffs. Decided to take our packs off to avoid having to deal the weight whilst investigating the obstacle when my pack slid down and over the cliff. I kept an eye on the pack as it had rested against some small trees while David went to the right and Tony headed left to find access. Once the pack had been recovered we took time to evaluate the situation. Basically not in any danger but given the time and carrying ~20K of equipment each including 7l of water, we decided to abort this approach. If we had had ropes you would setup a clear return path but we decided to fall back to Plan C.

HeightEaglsPeaks

 

Actual 001

 

7.2Km in 7:45 including activations and lunch. As a part of planning we had fall back positions so decided to head to Wrens Flat via Mt Sunday. 

10/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-050 (Mt Sunday)

Drive up in a 4WD. There were a couple of motor bikes go through whilst we were there. They were not off-road bike and after talking to them found out that they were following Google maps for a quicker way to Jamesion and had been left astray. My now they had left a bike behind 

 Mt Sunday on DMR simplex using just a rubber ducky antenna at each end. Having alm

VK3/VE-075 (an unactivated unnamed peak)

After staying the night at Wrens XXX we headed off to the ridge link to activate VK3/VE-075. The road had been torn up so it was decided to leave the car in a safe spot and walk a couple pf K’s to the ridge. Once there we turned right, dropped a bearing and headed into the scrub. This is thick.

IMG 2438

The going was slow only progressing 1km in an hour following the ridge line. As there was another 5.7Km to go to reach to summit, quick sums clearly demonstrated we would not back it there and back there and back today. Again the decision to abort was taken and we headed back out then along the road to evacuate plan D. Plan D was to pickup a summit on the way back to Mansfield via Jamison. 

11/Nov/2018 VK3/VE-191 (VK3/VE-191)

Another site only previously activated by Wayne VK3WAM. We followed Sappers Link and Jamieson Lookout Track. It was a leisurely drive in Tony’s 4WD through some beautiful area. A quicker route would be from Jamison along Sappers Track but we had the time to explore.

Again qualified on CW then headed back to mansfield to start the journey home. 

IMG 2437

Conclusion 

VK3/VE-075 is another summit that will be tackled with more respect. The going was hard through the bush. It should be addressed as a full day. 

I was disappointed not to make it to Governor. Not surprised as the distances and terrain are real. The decision to turn back was unanimous. Basically a combination of terrain and water required as well as level heads. We did not want to to require external assistance to be recovered from a undesirable situation. This attempt has given more information and experience in the area so will have another attempt at the Governor in 2019. This time using the Eagle Peaks Circuit.

Proposed 2019

Starting and finishing from Howqua Hills, it will be longer but clearer and will allow for water drops before hand.

Stay tuned, this site will not evade me forever…..

23092018 – VK3/VS-004

VK3/VS-004 (Mt Langi Ghiran)

WWFF Langi Ghiran State Park (VKFF-0760).

Quick activation to pick a S2S from VK3BYD Warren who was out in the Grampians. Given the distances 80m was the band.  Mt Langi Ghiran is essentially a rocky ridge with summit at the top. It has enough room for an 80m antenna but you have to be careful weaving through the trees and watching the rocks as you climb around. Usied the 7m Tactical 7000hds compact pole for height reducing the distance across. This pole fits inside in pack leaving my hands free and allows for scrub negotiation essential for the hike in.

Once antenna up I turned on the KX and Peter VK3ZPF was on channel. Worked him then went to CW for S2S with Warren and eventually 40m to keep the regular CW chasers happy.

QRPLabs QCX 5W CW single band transceiver

QRPLabs QCX 5W CW Single band transceiver

Another Arduino basd project, well not quite. The Arduino Uno is a microcontroller board based on the ATmega328P. This kit from QRPLabs also uses the ATmega328P. The software is not open source. Updates are provided as hex files.

This kit is extremely well documented. It is worth buying and assembling just for the documentation.

The assembly instructions are very clear and contain operation theory and alignment process.

Once assembled the device would not start. According to the excellent troubleshooting doc the processor had not been reset.

I had performed the modification for reliable microcontroller startup (repurposing inductor L5) during assembly so turned to the troubleshooting manual for direction. First was to go back and  check components then touched up the soldering around the processor and crystal and she started Ok.

QCXBuild

Next was to follow the assembly manual and align / tune then update the firmware. Again wth the excellent instructions there were no issue here.

Update Firmware from Mac;

I’m going to update the firmware from Mac using avrdude.

Purchased a USBAsp AVR programmer locally. It has a 10pin connector so get a 10 to 6 to match the ISP interface on the QCX or use dupont connectors like I did.

There are instructions on the QRPLabs site for win process for using  but No I want to use my Mac. Again Google is your friend. Given allready have XCode installed, I decided to just install avrdude and use the command line.

Install avrdude on Mac OSX.

Process is straight forward.

Open a terminal session and install Homebrew;

ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)” < /dev/null 2> /dev/null

Then install avrdude;

brew install avrdude

So the software is installed.

First Plug in the USBASP and verify the computer can see it (About->System Report) then check avrdude can see the QCX;

Allens-Air:QRPLabs allen$ avrdude -c usbasp -p atmega328p
avrdude: warning: cannot set sck period. please check for usbasp firmware update.avrdude: AVR device initialized and ready to accept instructions
Reading | ################################################## | 100% 0.00s
avrdude: Device signature = 0x1e950f (probably m328p)
avrdude: safemode: Fuses OK (E:FC, H:D1, L:F7)
avrdude done.  Thank you.

Noting the warning message. A quick Google revealed this is not an issue and there is a parameter you can pass to avrdude to skip skip the check so not worried, Ok then lets flash the device;

Allens-Air:QRPLabs allen$ avrdude  -c usbasp -p ATmega328P -U flash:w:T1.00f.hex
avrdude: warning: cannot set sck period. please check for usbasp firmware update.avrdude: AVR device initialized and ready to accept instructions
Reading | ################################################## | 100% 0.00s
avrdude: Device signature = 0x1e950f (probably m328p)avrdude: NOTE: “flash” memory has been specified, an erase cycle will be performed         To disable this feature, specify the -D option.avrdude: erasing chipavrdude: warning: cannot set sck period. please check for usbasp firmware update.avrdude: reading input file “T1.00f.hex”avrdude: input file T1.00f.hex auto detected as Intel Hexavrdude: writing flash (32076 bytes):
Writing | ################################################## | 100% 21.78s
avrdude: 32076 bytes of flash writtenavrdude: verifying flash memory against T1.00f.hex:avrdude: load data flash data from input file T1.00f.hex:avrdude: input file T1.00f.hex auto detected as Intel Hexavrdude: input file T1.00f.hex contains 32076 bytesavrdude: reading on-chip flash data:
Reading | ################################################## | 100% 16.32s
avrdude: verifying …avrdude: 32076 bytes of flash verified
avrdude: safemode: Fuses OK (E:FC, H:D1, L:F7)
avrdude done.  Thank you.

thats it done  ! Now running version 1.00f. 

From here I intend to go through the troubleshooting instructions with my new oscilloscope and explore the device.

23082018 – VK3/VE-073 & VK3/VE-123

2018-08-23 – VK3/VE-073 Mt Timbertop

2018-08-24 – VK3/VE-123

I had the week off for a planned trip to Deal Island. The plan was to charter a boat for drop off and pickup spending the weekend on the island. Always weather dependent keeping an eye on forecasts for the  return trip as did want a Gilligan’s Island situation.

This was cancelled (re-scheduled) due to the rough conditions.

I had the leave booked so decided to head up to into the Alpine NP for an overnight trip anyway.

I wanted to checkout the conditions in preparation for an upcoming hike out to The Governor. I have all-ready activated most of the summits in this area and those left have serious access considerations.  This trip was to see the snow lines so given road closures and being winter did not expect to gain deep access.  Anyway headed up Thursday morning intending to pickup Mt Timbertop on the way in.

VK3/VE-073 Mt Timbertop

VE 073 2

Arrived late in the afternoon with enough time to walk up, activate and safety get back. The track is in great condition. I was expecting light snow so dressed to be wet. Key will be to be past the snow for the walk out as will be in dark.  Not a but risk just needed buffer in case of issues. Parked at the bottom and headed up. Activated in the ‘clearing’ just below the peak. Well in the AZ and room to rolled out the 80m antenna. 80m is compulsory these days to ensure local contacts. For this activation I used 80 SSB and comfortably qualified. This summit is worth the walk for the views. On sunset the red sky was reflecting off the snow and provided an eerie view.

DSCN9495

Drove in and camped at Eight Mile Flat as this site in in the Alpine National Park.

It was cold the next morning.

Progresses down Brooks Rd. There were trees and rocks on the road. The trees had been cut and I move some rocks but got to a point where a new tree brought my plans to a stop. I could see snow on the ridge lines so not too fussed. It was a beautiful clear crisp day and worth the drive out any way.

Decided not to proceed out to Eagle Peaks. I have been before so know there is a track but the last 200m is a rock scramble. Given the snow though not a risk worth taking. Access also removed Rocky Ridge  and The Bluff from my agenda. Never really though the Bluff was an option. So headed back to pickup VK3/VE-123.

VK3/VE-123 UnNamed.

DSCN9497

Parked Subie at the base of Three Chain Track. It was wet and the first section torn up so not an option. There was patches of snow in corners so must of been low heavy snow recently but the track clear, just muddy. It is an easy walk with great views.

DSCN9486

Both these sites are worth consideration as clear access even in harsh weather. Mt Timbertop also qualifies for the seasonal 3 point bonus.

W8TEE and K2ZIA Antenna Analyzer

Another Arduino based project. This time an W8TEE and K2ZIA Antenna Analyzer.

AABench

Purchased the PCB from https://qrpguys.com/w8tee-k2zia-antenna-analyzer

Not a kit so sourced the components. Easy to order from china off eBay. Took about 2 weeks for all the bits to come in.

Assembled and she started but the SWR for a 51ohm dummy load was off the scale.

The audrino and screen are ok. Checked and double checked solder joints so needed to verify the DDS and SWR bridge operations.

My old Dick Smith device is not cutting the mustard so borrowed an oscilloscope from Lacky VK3ALM. Traced the signal into the SWR bridge and nothing out. Checked the components and well my bad as the 51ohm resistors were in-fact 51K ohm. Bit of a difference. Replaced and off she went !

Downloaded the latest WA2FZW software from IOGroups – https://groups.io/g/SoftwareControlledHamRadio/files/Improved%20Analyzer%20Software

The documentation and a debugging guide are available from this group, essential information.

AAHoused

Use a case from radio parts (CB8808). Yes there is a pimple in the middle. No intention to remove as works fine.

So far have scanned all my antennas at home. I can recommend this device. Not a kit but the process to source and assemble was fun.

04082018 – VK3/VC-024

04082018 – VK3/VC-024  

Went to Mt Beckworth for the VK1 S2S Party.

Third attempt to activate Mt Beckworth this year, first failed as the KX3 battery was flat and didn’t take a spare up to the site, second was changed to Mt Bunnyioung as slept through the alarm. Made it this time

This is a good site for such activities as close and clear.

VerticalSetup

QRPGuys 20/30/40 vertical with an additional 6 ground wires making 9 in total.

It is hard to pick differences without actually running all the antenna up at the same time, but a much better response with the additional ground over the original 3 wires when deployed at Mt Bunnyioung recently.

Didn’t run the end fed out to gain 80m as comfortably qualified and the other sites ended on on these bands.

PackLoaded

This was also a run with the new ‘Compact heavy-duty 7 m mast from SOTABeams’. As you can see the mast nearly fits into my backpack.

This will be great as now will not be harassed when hiking through dense bush (still not returning to Hells Gate !) Bit heaver but figure I just need to get fitter.

Good activation with 15 S2S in the fog. Also 1mm rain but not complaining about that given the drought in NSW.

NewImage

anyway, great activation. Ready for VK JA ZL – EU S2S QSO Party Saturday 20 October 2018 – 06:30 UTC to 08:30 UTC  (Melbourne, Australia*AEDT (UTC +11) Sat, 20 Oct 2018 5:30 pm)