*Video summary of my Amateur Radio activities: Overland Track 2015/16 Amateur Radio Ops (VK3TST) *
*Hiking the Overland Track: Overland Track 2015/16 Playlist *
The trip was great, the Tasmanian Wilderness is amazing, but as it was my first multi-day hike a few things didn’t go to plan…
I’ll start by saying that the Overland Track is an amazing walking track and quite an easy one as the track is well maintained, campsites and huts are good quality and you are very isolated, so planning is essential as there are no resupplies. The route we took (my wife and myself) was not the most direct, and with side trips, I ended up walking about 105km over 10 days.
The weather was awesome for us, with only 3 cloudy days and a small touch of rain; but don’t let this fool you, three weeks before us there was a dump of snow on most of the track.
Also don’t let the posted hiking times trick you; the best way I could describe the times is that they are for a fit person with a lightweight pack. On flat ground I could make the times with a day pack.
The Radio Pack
- FT-817 + mic + rubber duckie (1150g)
- VX-8R + mic + rubber duckie (400g)
- [[EFHW|End Fed Half Wave Antenna]] + L-match manual tuner (210g)
- BNC male-to-male, BNC R/A & other adaptors (50g)
- Logbook + pens (75g)
- 18W Flexible solar panel (Jaycar) with cable (540g)
- Powerstream MP3500i (60Wh Li-Ion battery, 9-24V input, 5V USB + 5-19V output) (450g)
- Ritmo BPak (73Wh Li-Ion 19V in/out battery pack) - as a backup for extra power (600g)
- Insulated bag (160g)
- Reusable hand warmers (310g)
- 3.6m telescopic fiberglass (fishing) rod (95g)
Yup, 4.04kg; next hiking trip this needs to be half that weight or better!
We also packed for 9 days of food and 10 days of hiking, meant that my backpack came to a total of 20kg on day one, which is not great for a less than experienced hiker. Some lessons have been learned.
30/12 Marions Lookout
Our Overland Track passes did not begin until the 31-Dec-2015, and as we wanted an early AM start on the track, and couldn’t get accommodation, we decided to head to the Scott-Kilvert Memorial Hut for the 30th; I of course wanted to do as much of the Overland Track as possible, so we started with Ronny’s Creek to Marion’s Lookout and then across the Face Track to get to Scott-Kilvert. This was probably not a smart decision and ended up with my wife slipping toward the end of the Face Track and doing a fairly serious injury to her hand, so we decided to stay the the nearby emergency hut, Rangers Hut.
31/12 Under Barn Bluff
On the 31st we decided to move on to Waterfall Valley via Scott-Kilvert, where we could hopefully catch up with someone who could give us a quick evaluation of my wife’s hand, and my plan also called for two nights at Waterfall Valley, so I could activate Barn Bluff (VK7/CH-003) and Cradle Mountain (VK7/CH-004).
I initially had trouble getting the EFHW antenna up and ended up getting the weight stuck in a tree. As the weight was connected directly to an antenna rather than string, I had to keep pulling until it snapped, luckily, only loosing about 5cm of wire. I ended up giving up on this idea after no contacts and later in the evening I set up the FT-817 on the Helipad and got made one contact with a VK2 in VKFF-0001.
01/01 On Barn Bluff
Happy new year! A late start for me, but I gave myself what I thought was plenty of time to get up VK7/CH-003 Barn Bluff before UTC change over. This is the first hurdle I came to, not understanding how fit I needed to be to make the times listed. I ended up being about 2 hours late. As conditions were poor (K value was about 10), making contacts was extremely hard, taking 2 hours to make 4 contacts!
40m & 15m contacts were likely line-of-sight within Tasmania and 20m would have been the only skip, skipping all the way to Queensland. I later heard that VK2IO & VK1MA were both trying to contact me on 20m, which probably means that 20m skip was just a little to long for VK2. I also did hear a VK3 on a summit on 40m, and tuned away for a second to see if I could hear another station, and in that time I lost the VK3 station.
Selfie + radio from top of Barn Bluff
Note: To anyone thinking about scaling the summits (Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, Mt Ossa, Mt Pelion East, The Acropolis) along the Overland Track, they all require some amount of rock scrambling, but you don’t need to be a professional rock climber. At times they all also have near vertical ascents, so you would want to leave any fear of heights behind. You will need to pull yourself up while holding rocks, and the same lowering yourself down on the descent.
About 3am I woke with pain in the back of my heel, looks like I injured my achilles going up Barn Bluff. More SOTA activations might be called off for this trip…
02/01 A Bath In Lake Will
Next day was a shorter walk, we decided to go to Lake Will for a swim (a.k.a. a bath!). I finally got my pack adjusted better than the first two days, but the waist strap kept slipping, this is not going to be a fun hike…
Lake Will as seen from Barn Bluff
After arriving at Lake Windermere Hut, I headed to the unused group camping (QF28XF) platform and set up the EFHW and successfully got three contacts. One was a park to park with VK3ZPF in VKFF-0622. It was here that I noticed that my Li-Ion battery pack was making a lot of noise on HF, all of HF. It was worse today, S6-S9 with some peaks in 40 & 20m, nothing I did stopped the amount of noise. The weather also came in today and I needed to use on of the hand warmers on the 817; radio functioned really well until another TX fault reared its head.
Radio set up on the group camping platform
03/01 Through the Moor
This is the longest day of the hike. Not long after arriving in Pine Forest Moor I got some phone reception, I took the opportunity to post my activation intentions on Facebook, and I crossed my fingers that I would be able to get up Mt Ossa the next day for an activation.
Pine Forest Moor, looking back to Barn Bluff (middle) and Cradle Mountain (centre right)
Just after lunch we found Pelion Creek, a nice platform, but covered by trees, still, if I do this trip again, I would make this my target for lunch and even try for some contacts. Pelion Creek was the clearest water for the whole trip. We got into New Pelion Hut exhausted but right about the right time for some QSOs, but no contacts today, and about 20 minutes in the TX issue kicked in, so I packed up and had dinner.
04/01 Over the Gap
Today was a slow day up to Pelion Gap, and decided to skip the Mt Ossa activation and see if I could get some contacts from the Gap at lunch time, still nothing. I made my way around Mt Doris for the last bit of phone reception until Lake St Clair and posted an email to the WWFF group to try and get some more contacts over the next few days, the only issue I would have here is that all huts from here are in valleys, and NVIS was going to be the only way out.
We also got to see the park helicopter do some deliveries for more works on the track and some repairs, pretty efficient in and out, and they also gave a couple of the track Rangers a ride to their next huts for the night.
Finished the day at Kia Ora Hut and this was a better chance to get on the radio with a fixed table and chairs behind the hut. The local noise from the battery pack was significantly lower today, I’m starting to think that the battery is actually radiating the noise and it’s not coming up the power cable as I originally assumed. I heard a bit tonight, and made contact with VI2AJ2016 up at the Australian Jamboree in Cataract Park near Sydney.
Radio set up behind Kia Ora Hut
After the poor light today and spending an hour at a time calling CQ over the past few days, I ended up using the BPak to charge the main pack, so it did end up coming in handy.
05/01 Visiting the Falls
Happy birthday to me!
This was to be a straight through day so I had more time to visit another summit, but looking at the distance, the time it has taken me between huts this far and my foot, I decided to give this one a miss and went to the Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge. We decided to only visit Hartnett Falls and it was amazing. Also had a chance to have a quick wash in the water while there.
Just before getting to the Du Cane Gap we has a small amount of rain, and considering the area I was in, it’s basically not worth mentioning. Over the Gap we went and down into the valley. Set up antenna again, but no contacts today…
Du Cane Gap, it’s [mostly] all down hill from here!
06/01 To Pine Valley
Got our first chance to see some of the suspension bridges on our way to Pine Valley today. Most people go to Pine Valley to do the side trips to the Labyrinth and The Acropolis, and these can be done without an Overland Track pass from the Lake St Clair end of the park.
Suspension bridge over Narcissus River
I got the antenna fairly high up in the trees here, and the antenna even tuned up on 80m, but with sunset at 9pm and most people wanting to get to be about that time, there was no real chance to test this out. I definitely heard a few locals booming through on 80m. I did make contact with an F-call in Swan Hill on 40m, very readable even with the static crashes.
07/01 Last Hut
This could be my last day. As there is a ferry from the Narcissus Hut, I could just skip straight to the end, but where’s the fun in that? I also got a chance to have a swim in the river and clean myself off, but what I really needed was a good rinse cycle, not just a soak!
To do it the easy way and go to the Jetty, or the long way around the lake to Cynthia Bay?
I also set up on the Helipad at Narcissus and used my 3.6m squipole, the antenna overall did not gain a lot of height, and no more contacts.
08/01 Around the Lake
Woke up and decided to do it, lets do the last 17.5km of the Overland Track! Made it to the Visitor Information Centre in just under 32,000 steps!
Low cloud in the morning over Mount Olympus
- Radio gear needs to be significantly lighter. 4kg was way to much. Might be worth learning Morse and getting a CW rig.
- I need a better backpack. The Denali Matterhorn 75 needed adjustment on more than 100 occasions.
- More preparation. Preparation for trip was hampered by hot weather canceling three weekend hiking trips and moving house two weeks before the hike.
- Should have been just calling “CQ”, rather than “CQ Parks”; didn’t mind the small ragchew…
- If you are throwing your only antenna wire up into a tree and it could potentially get caught, weaken the insulation near the end, if you need to pull on the wire to break it, this would be a good spot for it to break!
- Signal reports I was given were close to what I gave out, and it makes me wonder if the receive performance if somehow effected; but at least the EFHW is radiating.