SOTA Bald Mountain W1/GM-167, 12th October 2014

My XYL and I have been visiting the Green Mountains for years, but it’s only recently that we’ve come to SOTA, hence I didn’t realize how many of the W1/GM summits have never been activated. If the numbers on SOTAwatch are accurate, less than 50 of the 253 GM summits have been SOTA’d! Having had a fine time at Antone Mountain on Saturday, what could we do on Sunday? Well, with all those summits begging for an activation, more SOTA, of course! There are probably access issues for many peaks which explains why they haven’t been activated, but after a little consultation with SOTA maps, the adventure radio maps and the Green Mountain Club’s “Day Hiker’s Guide to Vermont” we found a few unactivated SOTA summits with good trails. Bald Mountain was chosen as the day’s target. Now comes the “mea culpa” – during the activation I was giving out W1/GM-055 as the summit reference. That is a Bald Mountain, about 10 miles south-west of Rutland, but its not the Bald Mountain which we activated, (W1/GM-167) in the Aitken State Forest, a couple of miles to the east of Rutland. Apologies to all chasers for the confusion caused. Just to add to the potential for mix-ups, there are another two SOTA summits named Bald Mountain and one Bald Hill in the W1/GM area, as well as many other Balds which don’t count for SOTA. Bald Mountain W1/GM-167 is not particularly aptly-named, since although there are a couple of excellent viewpoints the summit is mostly well-wooded, and not bald at all. Perhaps it was balder back in the day?

The start of the Bald Mountain trail.

The start of the Bald Mountain trail.

Bald Mountain is a relatively low summit (2090 feet) on a chain of hills just to the east of Rutland which separate the Otter Creek valley from the higher Green Mountain peaks of Killington and Pico. There is a loop trail which traverses the north and south summits of Bald Mountain, offering shorter or longer loop options (map). The trail is clearly signed at junctions, and there are fading blue paint blazes along the way (less faded in one direction than the other – perhaps they didn’t tell the last lad they sent up the hill with the pot of paint to color both sides of the trees?). There’s a short connecting section of trail from the road to the start of the loop, with sections of puncheon and boulders to step across – looks like it can get wet at times. After about 10 min, there’s an obvious fork in the trail with a big sign to indicate the beginning of the loop. We took the circuit clockwise, the most direct route to the higher northern summit. From this point, it’s a moderately steep trail, easy to follow, through an open hardwood forest.There are several viewpoints along the loop, offering vistas of the central Green Mountains, of the valley, and of Rutland.

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K3EL at one of the clearings offering a view of Pico Peak.

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Fiberglass mast propped up between the tree branches.

One of the viewpoints is near the summit. Close by is an enticing boulder offering comfortable seating to operate from, and thus our site was chosen. Equipment was the same as for Saturday’s activation of Antone Mountain. Once more, the trees provided a convenient support for the pole, and so we were able to dispense with guy ropes. At the summit the trees are quite low, and so the antenna mast protruded well above the topmost branches. There was a good Verizon cell signal at this site, so easy to see if you’re spotted on SOTAwatch – it was impressive to see how quickly an RBN spot appeared after calling CQ.

 

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The operating rock, Bald Mt.

Once the radio was set up, we donned our extra layers. The temperature was only in the 40s and we expected to be sat around for an hour or more – having hauled the radio gear up the hill, I don’t want to just have the minimum four QSOs to make an “official” activation, I want to stay long enough to make a QSO with anyone who wants one. First QSO was with DL6AP at 1542, and both 17 m and 15 m were hopping, with about 2/3 of the contacts with EU. After that, it was time for lunch. 40 m then provided some more local Qs, then up to 20 before finishing up on 15 m, last contact being with I6FPN at 1709. Out of 62 contacts, 25 were with North America, the rest with EU. This was a record number of contacts for one of my SOTA activations, and we also had bight sunshine, a good flat rock for a seat, and a view of the mountains from our summit location. What more could you ask for?

Fungi at the base of the trail.

Fungi at the base of the trail.

Bald Mt. was a pretty busy summit. We arrived around 10 am, at which time the parking spaces across from the gate to the trail were empty. When we returned mid-afternoon there were several cars, and we met quite a few walkers during the day. One commented that “it’s only locals that come up here”, he was clearly surprised to find two tourists from NJ on his mountain. We didn’t meet much wildlife. Perhaps all the activity on the trail scared them off. Lots of attractive mushrooms near the bottom of the trail, though.

Thanks to all the “chasers”, who make SOTA such an entertaining activity!

SOTA Antone Mountain, VT W1/GM-199, 11th Oct 2014

We made a last-minute decision on Thursday evening to go see the fall foliage in VT at the weekend. That sent me chasing off to the SOTAwatch website to see whether we could combine leaf-peeping with some SOTA. Looking at the listing of W1/GM summits, it wasn’t surprising to see that the major ski peaks had multiple activations listed. However, I immediately recognized several hills we’d hiked in years past which were SOTA summits, including several which had no record of SOTA activation.

Antone Mountain is a 2600-foot peak in southern Vermont which I first visited in 2000 and have been back to since. It’s in a large tract of preserved land managed by the Merck Forest and Farmland Center, an educational nonprofit organization. The higher elevations were once farmed, but have long-since reverted to forest. However, some of the old farm tracks still head up into the hills and now form part of a network of hiking trails which include an easy route to the top of Antone Mountain. The distance from the visitor center parking to the top of the hill is about 2.5 miles with around 900 feet of elevation gain.

The top of Antone Mountain peaks above a ridge. A slight gap in the trees on the summit marks the viewpoint.

The top of Antone Mountain peaks above a ridge, as seen from the farm. A slight gap in the trees on the summit is the viewpoint.

The trail is broad, fairly smooth, and generally not too steep if you stick to the Antone Mountain Road. We varied things a little this time, ascending via the Ski Trail and returning via the McCormick Trail. There are zero route-finding issues, an excellent map is available at the visitor center and all the trails are very clearly signed. The whole area is very popular with day hikers and families so expect to have plenty of company. Antone is the highest point in the Merck Forest lands and has a great lookout at the top, so it’s one of the most popular destinations within this preserve.

View of the farm from the top of Antone Mountain.

View of the farm from the top of Antone Mountain.

Mid-October is peak leaf season, and this year the fall colors were quite impressive throughout the parts of mid and southern VT which we visited. When we arrived at the parking it was around 40 F and cloudy. We’d brought plenty of clothing to keep warm whilst SOTAing, so our daypacks were pretty full. The hike up via the Old Town Road and Ski Trail took around 90 min. The lookout at the top of Antone Mt. allows a fine view of the farm which you walked past on the way up. We picked a spot to set up near the trail just beyond the lookout, a few yards away from the trail itself. The antenna used was a 33 foot vertical; since there are many low trees on the summit, we didn’t bother guying the DXwire pole, just telescoped it up through the branches and let it rest there. The antenna wire was fed through the center of the pole, and exits the pole near the base via a small hole drilled in the side of the bottom section. We laid out a dozen radials of varying lengths (12 – 33 feet) and connected the coax to the antenna via a switchable direct feed (on 40/15, bands where it’s resonant) or a 4:1 unun (20/17/15). Rest of the gear included a KX3 with Begali Adventure paddles, and a piglet and iPad running the hamlog app for logging. Power was from a LiFePO4 battery.

KX3 in action.

KX3 in action.

I started calling CQ on 17 m around 1530 UTC. There’s marginal or no cell coverage on the summit so I couldn’t send an alert, but after a few moments it was clear I’d been spotted because there was a flurry of calls. Ten QSOs later things slowed down; there was QRM on 18.085, turns out a W1AW station was getting busy 1 kHz below, and the pile was spreading out. No problem, let’s try 15 m. Once more, good conditions, with QSOs into the central and western US, and across the pond. After 15 m was tapped out, up to 40 m for some more local QSOs. A few CQs on 146.520 produced no response. While I was operating my XYL explained to curious passing hikers what we were doing, what is ham radio, what’s a SOTA, etc. Then off to 20 m; a few calls, but relatively slow going, so back again to 17 m. The first contact of this session was with UR5UID, the best DX of the day. We finally figured it was time to pack up and go around 1700 UTC; W7USA was the 46th and last contact in the log from this first activation of S1/GM-199. 16 Qs were with EU stations, the rest from the USA. Timing was good, because just as we finished up a large group arrived at the summit.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillar.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillar – luckily we didn’t touch, these fellas can give rise to a nasty reaction like poison ivy.

Down by the farm, there were lots of woolly bear caterpillars crossing the Old Town Road, going from west to east. Apparently there’s a woolly bear caterpillar myth which relates the severity of the coming winter to whether the caterpillars are going north or south… unfortunately these fellas were going west to east, so no predictions for the winter of 14/15. At the top of the mountain, this caterpillar was sat on a fern near to the operating position – didn’t realize, but it turns out they’re not good to touch since they can cause a nasty rash, like after exposure to poison ivy.

All in all, a very pleasant hike, and a productive SOTA activation. We topped the trip off by purchasing a gallon of maple syrup made on the farm at the Merck Forest preserve.

SOTA Stonetown High Point (Windbeam Mountain), W2/NJ-012 – 5th Oct 2014

NJ doesn’t have a lot of SOTA summits – 12, to be exact. NJ-012 is Stonetown High Point (better known as Windbeam Mountain), a summit which I activated in 2013. It’s a steep hike, but a very pretty one. A fire burned here a few years ago, so much of the hike is through an open, regenerating forest with better views than the typical NJ hill. Because it’s a pleasant hike, we (my XYL and I) decided to go up there again this year. The weather was beautiful on Sunday, 28th September, and we arrived at the trail head around 9.30. Instead of parking near the playing fields on Mary Roth Drive, we stopped at a small roadside parking spot on Westbrook Rd., about 200 yds south of the junction with Stonetown Rd. The trail head is on the north side of the three-way junction. This makes for a significantly shorter hike than if you park at Mary Roth Drive, since you avoid the lengthy (but interesting) walk through a boulder field which parallels Stonetown Rd.

The fire tower which used to sit atop Windbeam Mt. http://www.firetower.org/lookouts/Lookout.aspx?id=1560

The fire tower which used to sit atop Windbeam Mt. http://www.firetower.org/lookouts/Lookout.aspx?id=1560

It was surprisingly warm, with the temperatures close to 90 in the afternoon. Still, we huffed and puffed our way up to the top. It was easy to find the same spot which we’d used to activate W2/NJ-012 last year, but we continued further north along the ridge to the very highest point of the hill, and set up on a rock outcrop about 100 feet to the east of the trail just where the ground starts sloping down. At this point the top of the ridge is quite flat, but only a couple of hundred feet wide. Close by are the remains of the concrete footers for the old Windbeam Mt. fire tower, constructed in 1920. The tower was moved in 1971, and is now located on Ramapo Mountain, a few miles away.

We erected a DXwire fiberglass “mini” mast to support a 33′ vertical, laid out the radials, set up the radio… and discovered that the powerpole to coaxial DC connector was nowhere to be found. We had a battery and a KX3, but no way to connect them! Much cussing didn’t help any electrons excite the radio, and so back down the hill we went. Consolation was sought at the ice-cream store in Wanaque, but we were too early, they didn’t open until 2 pm. The disaster was complete, and we returned to Princeton, hot, tired and without any QSOs.

Being of an ornery nature, plans were made to return the following weekend. Lesson learned, this time a more thorough inventory of equipment would be made when packing gear (coincidentally, a “perfect checklist” was just posted to the files section of the Yahoo SOTA group!). Sunday, 5th Oct. was forecast to be sunny but cold, and we arrived at the same parking spot at 8.45 am with the temperature hovering around 40 F rather than 80 F the week before. Gloves and woolen hats would have been welcome! The ground was well-covered with fallen leaves, occasionally making the path hard to discern, but there are good blazes in the trees. Anyway, we could remember the way from last week’s ascent… It took us a little over an hour to get from the trail head to the top of Windbeam Mt. There are good viewpoints at various spots on the way up – look out for the skyscrapers of Manhattan peaking over a ridge when you’re atop Little Windbeam.

Setup was the same as the previous week, with the vertical placed atop a rock outcrop, and a dozen radials draped over the ground. The 33 ft vertical was fed via a switchable direct feed (for 40 and 15 m) or a 4:1 unun (to tame the mismatch on the other bands), with 12 feet of RG8X coax to the KX3. This is a lighter setup compared to the base tuner which I’ve used previously, and seemed to work very well.

Operating from W2/NJ-012

Operating from W2/NJ-012

A CQ on 17 m CW quickly produced a caller from HB9, followed by EA and ON as well as several Stateside QSOs.

KX3 and a piglet, with hamlog for logging.

KX3 and a piglet, with hamlog for logging.

20 m produced another dozen or so contacts, 40 m not so many. 15 m was good for another dozen, with half being to EU including some very strong signals from Scandinavia, then back to 17 m to finish off the afternoon. Out of 46 QSOs, 13 were with EU stations, and nearly half of the RBN spots for this operation were from EU. Clearly conditions were good for DX, particularly on 15 and 17.

We saw our fair share of wildlife on these two trips up Windbeam Mt. On the first we met a black rat snake, some five or six feet long. On the second, we found this turtle close to the base of the old fire tower.There weren’t many fellow hikers on the trail, we saw about half a dozen each day.

Eastern box turtle on Windbeam Mountain

Eastern box turtle on Windbeam Mountain

 

Some Mellish Reef History

It’s been a busy few months for me since we returned from Mellish Reef. The VK9MT story has appeared in various amateur radio magazines, so I won’t repeat it here. When researching some history related to Mellish Reef, I came across a few interesting facts which haven’t made it into amateur radio websites commenting on this entity, so here is a little bit of Mellish history.

Mellish Reef was discovered by Capt. Abraham Bristow in the whaler Thames, April 5th, 1812. “Highest part about 8 ft above water… Many boobies…” (A Directory for the Navigation of the Southern Ocean, A. G. Findlay, London, 1877). Of interest to some of the VK9MT team, Bristow also discovered the Auckland Islands (several of us sailed close to the Auckland islands on our way down to Campbell Island in 2012). As can be seen below, Herald’s Beacon (the above-water part of Mellish Reef) is still today just a small pile of coral rubble rising a few feet above the water.

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Herald’s Beacon islet, Mellish Reef.

As in Bristow’s day, there are still many Boobies nesting on the island.

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Masked Booby, Mellish Reef

The Thames was captured from the Spanish prior to 1805, and owned by W. Mellish and Co. Originally 300 tons, she was lengthened and armed in 1811 when Bristow took command. At that time, she was issued with a “letter of marque”. (Ships Employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815, J. M. Clayton, Belforts, England, 2014), i.e. a license to chase the enemy (the French!), a privateer.

W Mellish

W. Mellish

W. Mellish and Co. was owned by William Mellish (1764-1838). Mellish was a governor of the Bank of England, and a Conservative MP. I think we can safely assume that Mellish Reef was named after W. Mellish and Co. and its eponymous owner. The image and information on William Mellish comes from the University of Nottingham website.

So what has happened at Mellish Reef since its discovery? Since it offers little or nothing which could be exploited commercially, the answer appears to be “nothing much”. It has, however, been the scene of several shipwrecks:

Portrait_of_Captain_Sir_Henry_Mangles_Denham_by_Charles_Baugniet,_1849

Sir Henry Denham, Captain of the Herald

Mid-August 1856, wreck of the French steam frigate Duroc. Passengers and crew landed safely on a sandbank and three boats carrying thirty-three persons set out for Cape Tribulation (Aus). The thirty-one left on the sandbank with four months provisions eventually constructed a boat and reached Timor within 28 days. Cannon and fittings were found in 1977. (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=NENZC18571031.2.13). A few years later, H. M. S. Herald visited Mellish, and her captain, Henry Denham (photo) ordered a beacon to be constructed upon the only above-water land, so that in the future vessels would be able to better see the reef. The beacon was a tripod-like structure, made from the remains of the Duroc. Thus, the islet at Mellish Reef is called Herald’s Beacon. Denham and the crew of the Herald were responsible for charting much of the Coral Sea.

8 March 1923: Wreck of he steam ship, Mindini, 2065 tons. Struck Mellish Reef when bound from Tulagi to Brisbane. The passengers and crew abandoned her and remained on a small islet until SS Nauru Chief took them off. Interesting to note that from the newspaper clipping, it appears that Captain Clarke of the Defiance was aboard the Mindini, the Defiance having sunk and her crew having been rescued by the Mindini. Only to then ground on Mellish Reef… some folks have all the luck! (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/1883204)

Mindini wreck

Shipwreck, 20 May 1962: Wreck of the fishing vessel Kiaho Maru, 230 tons. Crew of 28 rescued by the Norwegian freighter Holthill.

None of these wrecks are visible today above the water from Herald’s Beacon islet.

VK9MT – Ready To Go!

After months of planning, the VK9MT team has started to assemble in Mackay, Australia, in preparation for departure to Mellish Reef, next week. Advance team and Evohe 19 Mar

The advance team of Heye (DJ9RR), Gene (K5GS), Pista (HA5AO) and Les (W2LK) are pictured in front of our transport, the Evohe, recently arrived from New Zealand.

The last few days I’ve been packing radio, amplifier, and all sorts of station accessories into two Pelican-style cases, plus a rolling duffel with clothes and yet more radio gear, and a backpack with plenty of photo equipment. In just a day or so, will be heading off to meet up with the rest of the VK9MT team.