Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned


In the past 18 months of SOTA operations I’ve learned a few things and noted them on my blog entries for each trip. Here’s a summary of them listed by category.

Antennas

Mt Granya Dec 2013

It’s always best to test things like antennas before trying to use them for an activation, but sometimes luck is on your side.

Mt Baranduda Jan 2014

Pick your antenna support carefully. It pays to give the halyard a tug before rigging the antenna, just to make sure.

Mt Baranduda Jan 2014

It’s amazing how far 5W of RF will travel even when the antenna is lying on the ground in an untidy heap!

Mt Cope Mar 2014

Beware unlabelled dipole links. Count carefully and pay attention to what you’re doing. Better yet, label them.

Mt Yorke Apr 2014

Remember the lessons from previous trips! Dead trees make poor antenna supports.

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Batteries

Mt Lawson Feb 2013

Barrett 940s don’t like low voltage. Use a 4S LiPo or LiFePO.

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

It doesn’t matter how much you charge your SLABs, the Barrett 940 still doesn’t like them! Neither, apparently, does the IC706.

The Hump Jan 2014

The humble lead-acid battery has had its day. Lithium technology has its vices, but the LiFePO4 battery performed flawlessly this time out and its light weight was appreciated. An hour or so of operating doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in its capacity.

Mt Benambra Feb 2014

Check the state of your GPS batteries and if they’re running low, either replace them or make sure you’ve got spares with you.

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Food & Drink

Mt Granya Nov 2013

Flies love a good picnic at this time of year. Take food that can be eaten one-handed so that the other is free to wave.

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GPS

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

Set a waypoint before leaving your vehicle so that you can find it again when you come back down. If you don’t, if you’re lucky you’ll probably find the trail again but when you do, do you turn left or right?

Jarvis Creek Plateau Feb 2014

Using the GPS to navigate to the summit might save time, especially if you set waypoints at the turn-off from the main road.

Mt Jack Apr 2014

Don’t forget to set waypoints for the places where you need to turn off a main road onto a trail. Signposting can be hard to see, inaccurate or missing altogether.

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

An up to date topographic map of the area and a GPS are indispensable for SOTA work.

Mt Benambra Feb 2014

Check the state of your GPS batteries and if they’re running low, either replace them or make sure you’ve got spares with you.

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Insects

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

The Great Aussie Mozzie just loves Aeroguard. Forget it. Use Bushman’s or something DEET based. But don’t get it in your eye!

Mt McKay Dec 2013

Don’t forget the DEET. When march flies are around, you are on the menu!

Mt Granya Nov 2013

Flies love a good picnic at this time of year. Take food that can be eaten one-handed so that the other is free to wave.

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Maps

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

An up to date topographic map of the area and a GPS are indispensable for SOTA work.

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

The closest point of approach to a summit is not necessarily the easiest place to start walking from. Check the contours and preferably plan a route before you set out.

Mt Benambra Feb 2014

It’s very helpful to have a topo map of the area and refer to it from time to time so you know where you are, and where you’re heading.

Mt Jack Apr 2014

If you’re contemplating a bit of 4WDing, check out the contours. Some of the alleged “roads” in this part of the world are steep!

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

You can look at all the maps in the world but there’s nothing more useful than on-the-ground reconnaissance of your own, or that of somebody who’s been there a little while before you.

Jarvis Creek Plateau Feb 2014

Using the GPS to navigate to the summit might save time, especially if you set waypoints at the turn-off from the main road.

Mt Jack Apr 2014

Don’t forget to set waypoints for the places where you need to turn off a main road onto a trail. Signposting can be hard to see, inaccurate or missing altogether.

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Miscellaneous

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

Don’t forget where you are. Stop, check out the views, smell the flowers!

Black Mountain Oct 2013

Not all SOTA summits are hard to get to. Be grateful for the easy ones!

Wild Horse Hill Nov 2013

Take a word of advice from Winston Churchill: Never, never give up. Persistence pays off.

Mt Granya Nov 2013

It doesn’t matter how crook you feel, activating a Summit will make you feel better.

Mt Granya Nov 2013

What a fantastic bunch of people those CFA/RFS Volunteer Firefighters are. We’d be in deep trouble without them.

Mt Granya Dec 2013

If at first you don’t succeed, try another CQ call.

Mt McKay Dec 2013

It’s a small world. You never know who you’re going to bump into, on the air or on a Summit in the middle of nowhere.

The Horn Jan 2014

Don’t go just to play radio. Allow time to enjoy the scenery as well.

The Hump Jan 2014

Finding accommodation in the area close to the Summit(s) you’re activating can save time and let you stay longer on the summit than you otherwise would.

Jarvis Creek Plateau Feb 2014

SOTA is addictive. Two weeks between SOTA activations is way too long!

Mt Yorke Apr 2014

Spectacles are not required for antenna rigging. Leave them in the car.

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Mobile Phones

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

Mobile phones are great, but in accordance with Murphy’s Law there will be no signal whenever you badly need to make a call. Having a satellite phone in the car for emergency use is very reassuring.

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Noise (Acoustic)

Mt Baranduda Jan 2014

Headphones are always a good idea when the environment is likely to be noisy. On this trip I struggled a bit with wind noise, and those pesky trail bikes of course.

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Operating Mode

Hore Hill Mar 2014

CW is a fantastic mode but if you’re the only one using it you’re in for a lonely time!

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Planning

Mt Lawson Mar 2014

Weeks of meticulous planning are not always necessary to prepare for a SOTA expedition. The drop-of-a-hat trips can be just as much fun as the serious expeditions.

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

Never, ever venture on a 4WD expedition without telling someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. I was constantly reassured by the thought that my lady knew exactly where I would be, and could raise the alarm if I didn’t reappear in time for dinner.

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Personal Protective Equipment

Black Mountain Oct 2013

When hauling fallen timber off the trail, wear gloves.

The Horn Jan 2014

Even if it is the middle of summer, you still need proper bush-walking gear to move around safely in these mountains.

The Horn Jan 2014

The air temperature may feel cool but the UV levels are extreme at this altitude. Long sleeves, a hat and sunblock are the order of the day.

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

The Great Aussie Mozzie just loves Aeroguard. Forget it. Use Bushman’s or something DEET based. But don’t get it in your eye!

Mt McKay Dec 2013

Don’t forget the DEET. When march flies are around, you are on the menu!

Mt Cope Mar 2014

A fine, sunny, warm morning in the river valley does not equate to a fine, sunny, warm morning at 1800 metres. Rug up.

Mt Big Ben Apr 2014

Autumn is here, so take warm gear even if it’s a nice, sunny day.

Mt Jack Apr 2014

Time may be an illusion but the arrival of autumn surely is not. Rug up unless you want to bail out as soon as the sun starts getting low.

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Propagation

Mt Lawson Feb 2013

When F0F2 is right, you don’t need much power to work NVIS within a radius of a few hundred kilometres.

Wild Horse Hill Nov 2013

The propagation gods are fickle. Never take them for granted and never miss an opportunity to appease them!

Mt Granya Dec 2013

If the propagation gods are smiling on you, you can work the world on only 5 Watts.

The Hump Jan 2014

You can work DX with only 5 Watts but if you want to do it reliably you really need a bit more power.

Mt Big Ben Apr 2014

If the band’s not open you won’t work any DX regardless of how much power you run.

Mt Baranduda Jan 2014

It’s amazing how far 5W of RF will travel even when the antenna is lying on the ground in an untidy heap!

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Public Curiosity

Mt McKay Dec 2013

Having a knowledgeable person on hand to answer questions can be very helpful when inquisitive visitors turn up on a Summit.

The Horn Jan 2014

Tourists always want to stop and chat, so be prepared to take a break from operating to explain what you’re doing.

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Radio Equipment

Mt Big Ben Apr 2014

The Barrett 940 really is a pain in the proverbial. It’s too big, too heavy and channelised operation doesn’t suit Amateur operation.

Mt Lawson Feb 2013

Barrett 940s don’t like low voltage. Use a 4S LiPo or LiFePO.

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

It doesn’t matter how much you charge your SLABs, the Barrett 940 still doesn’t like them! Neither, apparently, does the IC706.

Mt Granya Dec 2013

If the propagation gods are smiling on you, you can work the world on only 5 Watts.

The Hump Jan 2014

You can work DX with only 5 Watts but if you want to do it reliably you really need a bit more power.

Mt Big Ben Apr 2014

If the band’s not open you won’t work any DX regardless of how much power you run.

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Reconnaissance

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

You can look at all the maps in the world but there’s nothing more useful than on-the-ground reconnaissance of your own, or that of somebody who’s been there a little while before you.

Wild Horse Hill Nov 2013

If an expedition gives you some good recon data then you haven’t wasted your time, even if you haven’t managed an Activation.

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

If local knowledge tells you a trail is 4WD only, pay attention!

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Roads & Trails

Mt Lawson Feb 2013

Regardless of how well maintained Park trails are, trees fall or drop branches all the time. Take a chainsaw.

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

A little local knowledge is very helpful, particularly with regard to the state of bush trails.

Mt Jergyle Sep 2013

If local knowledge tells you a trail is 4WD only, pay attention!

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

Pay attention to warnings about roads that are “dry weather only”. They mean what they say.

The Hump Jan 2014

Beware of “easy” trails. Yes they probably are easy if you’re a fit and enthusiastic bushwalker. If you’re not then take your time and don’t bust your boiler on the way up, because you still have to get down again and going downhill is in many ways just as hard as going up. In the dark, no trail is easy.

Hore Hill Mar 2014

VIC State and National Parks tend to have well signposted trails. If a trail doesn’t have a sign, check very carefully before you assume it’s the one you’re looking for.

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

On a 4WD trail, expect the unexpected. Don’t go out without your recovery gear. And a chainsaw.

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

The closest point of approach to a summit is not necessarily the easiest place to start walking from. Check the contours and preferably plan a route before you set out.

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

Although in low range 4WD the Hilux will go up the side of a house, it needs traction to do it. Slippery mud equals no traction equals you ain’t going nowhere, mate.

Black Mountain Oct 2013

When hauling fallen timber off the trail, wear gloves.

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

If you’re going to take on a challenging 4WD run in to a Summit, it’s a good idea to have company and take more than one vehicle.

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

Check the weather forecast before setting out, and keep an eye on the weather while you’re on the expedition. You don’t want to risk getting stuck out on a Summit or in the bush if it rains. At the first sign of bad weather, abandon the expedition.

Hore Hill Mar 2014

If you allow plenty of time to get to your Summits you won’t get stressed about being “late”. 4WDing takes time, unless you don’t care what you do to your vehicle.

Mt Lawson Mar 2014

On Sundays expect Sunday drivers. Allow plenty of time and use the opportunity to develop your patience and self-control.

Mt Cope Mar 2014

Major cycling events are publicised on the web, so if a search fails to find anything you’re probably in the clear.

Mt Jack Apr 2014

If you’re contemplating a bit of 4WDing, check out the contours. Some of the alleged “roads” in this part of the world are steep!

Granite Mountain Jul 2014

Snow compacts into ice under the weight of a vehicle, and there is little or no traction on ice. Don’t attempt to drive on fresh or compacted snow. You won’t get far.

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Safety

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

Never, ever venture on a 4WD expedition without telling someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. I was constantly reassured by the thought that my lady knew exactly where I would be, and could raise the alarm if I didn’t reappear in time for dinner.

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

If you’re going to take on a challenging 4WD run in to a Summit, it’s a good idea to have company and take more than one vehicle.

Mt McKay Dec 2013

Don’t be deceived by the air temperature. It may only be 18 degrees but at altitude the UV is extreme, so it’s even more important to cover up, wear a hat and use sun block.

Mt Baranduda Jan 2014

Safety is everything. Remember to check the environment for hazards (like dodgy trees/branches) and don’t take unnecessary risks.

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

Set a waypoint before leaving your vehicle so that you can find it again when you come back down. If you don’t, if you’re lucky you’ll probably find the trail again but when you do, do you turn left or right?

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

Mobile phones are great, but in accordance with Murphy’s Law there will be no signal whenever you badly need to make a call. Having a satellite phone in the car for emergency use is very reassuring.

The Horn Jan 2014

Even if it is the middle of summer, you still need proper bush-walking gear to move around safely in these mountains.

The Horn Jan 2014

The air temperature may feel cool but the UV levels are extreme at this altitude. Long sleeves, a hat and sunblock are the order of the day.

The Hump Jan 2014

Beware of “easy” trails. Yes they probably are easy if you’re a fit and enthusiastic bushwalker. If you’re not then take your time and don’t bust your boiler on the way up, because you still have to get down again and going downhill is in many ways just as hard as going up. In the dark, no trail is easy.

Jarvis Creek Plateau Feb 2014

Thunder rumbling in the distance doesn’t necessarily mean the HF bands will be unusably noisy, but carefully assess the risk of getting struck. If in doubt, don’t hang about!

Granite Mountain Jul 2014

Don’t take risks. An expedition on which you get trapped in the middle of nowhere in the high country in winter is likely to end badly.

Granite Mountain Jul 2014

If in doubt, chicken out! That way there will be a next time.

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SOTA Data


Don’t rely on the ARM. SOTAData has the final word on Summit references.

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Sporting Events

The Hump Jan 2014

If you’re planning a trip to the Victorian high country it’s worth scouring the web to find out if there are any events going on that might clash with your plans. Cycling, in particular, seems to be very popular up there.

Mt Cope Mar 2014

Major cycling events are publicised on the web, so if a search fails to find anything you’re probably in the clear.

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Spots and Alerts

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

Spotting is very important. It’s great if you can spot yourself as we did on this trip, but if you can’t then it’s important to have someone do it for you.

Mt Granya Dec 2013

A spot is probably worth about 6dB of signal strength! Get spotted and make the contacts. Conversely…

Mt Benambra Feb 2014

Having access to SMS spotting is useful but not strictly necessary when there are helpful chasers about who can spot you.

Mt Yorke Apr 2014

SOTA Watch is very helpful. Wouldn’t it be great if we had internet access everywhere!

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Time

Hore Hill Mar 2014

If you allow plenty of time to get to your Summits you won’t get stressed about being “late”. 4WDing takes time, unless you don’t care what you do to your vehicle.

Mt Lawson Mar 2014

On Sundays expect Sunday drivers. Allow plenty of time and use the opportunity to develop your patience and self-control.

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Tools

VK2/RI-010 & RI-009 Oct 2013

On a 4WD trail, expect the unexpected. Don’t go out without your recovery gear. And a chainsaw.

Mt Lawson Feb 2013

Regardless of how well maintained Park trails are, trees fall or drop branches all the time. Take a chainsaw.

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Vehicles

Jingellic Trig Oct 2013

Although in low range 4WD the Hilux will go up the side of a house, it needs traction to do it. Slippery mud equals no traction equals you ain’t going nowhere, mate.

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Weather

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

Check the weather forecast before setting out, and keep an eye on the weather while you’re on the expedition. You don’t want to risk getting stuck out on a Summit or in the bush if it rains. At the first sign of bad weather, abandon the expedition.

Jarvis Creek Plateau Feb 2014

Thunder rumbling in the distance doesn’t necessarily mean the HF bands will be unusably noisy, but carefully assess the risk of getting struck. If in doubt, don’t hang about!

Mt Lawson Mar 2014

If rain is forecast, and when you reach the summit it looks like it’s going to rain, it’ll probably rain. But not necessarily.

Mt Cope Mar 2014

A fine, sunny, warm morning in the river valley does not equate to a fine, sunny, warm morning at 1800 metres. Rug up.

Mt Big Ben Apr 2014

Autumn is here, so take warm gear even if it’s a nice, sunny day.

Mt Jack Apr 2014

Time may be an illusion but the arrival of autumn surely is not. Rug up unless you want to bail out as soon as the sun starts getting low.

Jingellic Trig Dec 2014

Pay attention to warnings about roads that are “dry weather only”. They mean what they say.

Mt McKay Dec 2013

Don’t be deceived by the air temperature. It may only be 18 degrees but at altitude the UV is extreme, so it’s even more important to cover up, wear a hat and use sun block.

Granite Mountain Jul 2014

It snows in the high country in winter! Even when there’s no sign of snow lower down, expect it if you’re going higher than a thousand metres or so.

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