ZS2DH

Zulu Sierra Two Delta Hotel

Running a Hamnet exercise

I have a gift – or a curse, I’m not sure.  As a software engineer, it is my job to simplify tasks and provide efficient solutions to what I like to call “real world problems”.   I am not a technical person and many can’t understand this.  Let me explain.

Whether it is electricity, gas, cars, or anything along those lines, I tend to battle a lot more than people would expect.  Until I explain that I live in a world where anything is possible – if it does not already exist, I make it.  So when I ask if a penlight battery can power an HF rig for a 24 hour field station people just laugh.  In my mind I can’t understand why they simply don’t just make a penlight battery with that capability – I would if you could code it!

So you can’t code batteries and other “real world problems” but several decades of “inventive engineering” can make you expect things 🙂

Ok, so what does this have to do with a national Hamnet exercise?  Well I wrote a small web application on one of our test servers at the salt mine and with that managed to keep 11 teams around the country busy sending messages on HF and VHF for a full 24 hours period.  The script is available to anyone who would like to run a similar event – just yell and I’ll help where I can.

Basically it involved generating a bunch of messages (I needed about 357, but shortened it to 342 final tally).  The desired message rate was “2-3 message per hour, with about the same coming in“.  So I kept the teams in order for outbound messages, but randomised the message destination team so there was no pattern to make it boring.  I then sent a message off every 4 minutes.  This meant a team would get an out bound message every 44 minutes and this seemes to have done the trick.

Generating 350 messages also sounds like a hugh task – but being fundamentally lazy I found an easy way – a sort of “mail merge” so you can make a missing persons report where the detail such as race, gender, age, height, weight, and when/where they went missing is all pulled in from random text files.  Super easy to use and once again – available for free to anyone who would like to use it.

So, in short, running someting like this is not a big deal.  But it was fun and inspiring – hearing the people, 23 and a half hours into the event asking if we could carry on since they were still having fun – priceless!  Radio hams are all nice friendly people and the underlying courtesy and professionalism came shining through.

Some of the challenges included battery power, lighting, and heating!  While the Limpopo was mild, the Free State was freezing!  I would like to be a part of something like this again in the future and wonder if I could stand the cold like they did?

The basic plan

Teams were tasked with setting up a VHF team with internet access (to get messages to send and to log the messages received) and a HF team with good comms to relay messages.  This meant that each message followed at least a VHF->HF->VHF path but a large number needed to be relayed so even more hands were involved.  A great deal of message sending and good practice.

 

Hammies Boot Camp – Bisho

I was privilledged to have my two sons assist me with a Hammies Boot Camp in the Bisho area of the Eastern Cape.  What made this course special for me was that my old friend and Scouting collegue, Lunga Nqini had asked me to run it for his Church/Scout group.   The course was planned for April 27-May 1 but ended a day earlier than anticipated.

17 eager kids awaited our arrival and one very loaded Nissan Sentra arrived early Friday morning.  Things soon got underway and classes began.  Really interesting questions from some of the kids.

One of my favourites:  If we not allowed to use bad language on the radio, but we are allowed to play music – what if we play music with bad language?  A nice short answer to a Scout/Church kid: If you have music like that you listening to the wrong kind on music.

Friday we did a LOT of theory, Saturday was a lot more fun with practical activities and Sunday was teh day for the HF tests.  What a day!

I received a call to return to the saltmine on the Monday – the day the written exam was due.  This meant we needed to close up a day earlier than anticipated.  Sunday turned into a day full of tests for the kids – each going through their HF test and then the group finally writting the written paper at 15:30.  By 17:00 Sunday we were on the way home again.  Roadworks, SunSet and idiot drivers together – but we made it home safely!

A new ruling from the SARL RAE committee is that 5 QSOs are now needed for the practical test.  Fortunately we had started the mamoth task of 17×5=85 QSOs Saturday afternoon!  It was a long haul that I’d have to say.

Upon reflection, one thing that amazed me was that almost all of the kids were scared of the battery!  I had to show them several times that you could touch the terminals – mentioning each time that you could not touch them together!  Yet each one, while practicing to set up the station was overly cautious when working with the battery.  At first I wanted them to relax, but I think a healthy dose of care is probably a good idea.

Another thing that jumped out at me was that the language barrier was not nearly as bad as it used to be.  That said, when you get a little 9 year old Xhosa girl who cant read (or as we used to say – sound it) Electromagnetic radiation, you have to ask how many 9 year olds could anyway 🙂

A number of priceless moments stick out for me, but probably my favourite is getting a signal report as “a beautiful, loving 5/9”.  A close second came from Enkosi – our top scorer – who when I asked her duting one of our QSOs whether she was having fun replied that she was having an absolute BLAST.  Enthusiasm you don’t often hear on the radio – and that with perfect protocal.  Sommer net lekker!

To view more pics of the course and the accommodation at the venue, look here.

 

 

Hammies Boot Camp 2018 – photos

You can read all about the Hammies Boot Camp in Bisho here.

Below are photos of the course, the accommodation.

ion at the venue, and the kids themselves.

IronMan 2018

The Lolipop, PE beachfront

The Lolipop, PE beachfront

Port Elizabeth on the Eastern shores of South Africa is home to one of the most popular Iron Man routes in the world.  I’d like to think it has something to do with the friendly people, the clean beaches, and the very very smart, efficient radio hams who line the route doubling as keen spectators.

Well we do have friendly people and clean beaches – jsut saying 😉

April 15 marked a day a lot of people pushed themselves.  Athletes who swam, cycled, ran, and overcame.  There were also radio hams and other officials who put in a very long shift to make this a world class event.

Ironman 2018 field station

Ironman 2018 field station

This year was another long-shift down on the beach front.  Getting to my point at about 05:30 and standing there until the last runner is home – or 00:00 – whichever comes first.  This time it was midnight.

Once again the plan was to use teh mobile repeater on the roof of the Radison Blu hotel on teh beach front as a cross band for UHF along the beachfront and patching it into the Slipper repeater for the stations out on the cycle route.  Unlike in the past, however, this time our normal pointman in the JOC (Tony – ZR2TX) was officially a referee and going around in his black and white stripped shirt looking all official!  We were so proud of him!

Jimmy, ZS2JIM took to the role as if he was made for it.  Keeping a cool head and keeping the rest of us awake too.  Jimmy – a fine job, well done.

This year I had the pleasure of having my XYL Bev,  and our sons Graydon ZU2GH and Michael ZU2MOO assisting me.  I was joined in the afternoon by the Zulu himself – Andre Potgieter ZS2ZA.  Andre enjoyed it so much and stayed with us to the bitter end.

Our English Rose we called her: Natalie,  the first lady NOT to make it.  Graydon ran with her from our position toward the finish line.  It was always going to be tight, but it was not to be! Seconds short at the end of a very long day!

Natalie may not have won the IronMan, but she won the hearts of many Port Elizabethans.  Natalie we love you!

Andre is already waiting for the (half IronMan) World Championships later this year – we going to operate again as one of the waterpoints/cheer groups/radio operators.  A large number of runners in the last few hours thanked us personally for our support (verbal abuse) and said that without us they would either have not finished or would have battled a lot more.

Personally I find it incredibly inspiring – not the leaders, they professionals, but the regular Joes at the end of the day.  The older ones, chubbier ones, people like me – daring me to give it a try.

My favourite chirp after the IronMan is when people ask me how I am – I reply “A little stiffer after IronMan than I’d care to admit.”

 

 

Addo Extreme – 2018

Addo Extreme is an annual event and you can read about the 2017 event here.

Please read that one first 🙂 And take a look at some of the pics too!

Ok, now that you are back and have read all about the 2017 event, let me let you down slowly.  I did not enter the event this year.  Sad because I thought it would be a wonderful way to activate the park for Parks on the Air/WWFF.  Activate a park while running a trail run – not too many can say “been there, done that”.

The event this year was almost rained out – and that in the drought ridden Eastern Cape!

According to the original deployment plan, Glen (ZS2GV) and I were to return to the same site as last year – this time without Andrew Gray.  On the day, however, the entire ridge was inaccessible and we were relocated to deploy a cross-band repeater so the guys in the deep valleys could talk to the rest of the world.

Mike de Lange (ZS2MDL) was manning the (infamous) checkpoint at the bottom of the steep ridge up to our previous location and this was a challenge for communications.  Mike used his satellite phone and HF (7.098KHz) for communications.  We managed to link Eric (ZS2ECH) and Chris (ZS2AAW) with the JOC and that from a spot we found in the dark!

Ok, let me start from the beginning…

2GV and I left for the Addo park, Kirkwood entrance and after some *interesting* directions from the warden at the gate, we set off into the park.  After some time we thought we might be going the wrong way, but the GPS could only tell us a general direction as none of the roads were on the map.  All we had to go on was an image cropped from Google Earth and emailed to us – so we could not even zoom in, let alone get any information from it.

Our suspicions were confirmed when out of the bush popped a checkpoint with Rudi and Ellie.  They confirmed our worst fears – that we had to turn around and go all the way back to the gate!

On the way to the gate we passed Mike (ZS2MDL) and co on their way to the checkpoint (they were supposed to be there) and Mike told me that Graydon had been looking for me on the town repeater and mentioned that it was “work related”.  A 1000 possibilities ran through my mind, but eventually I could only think of one – the dairy was standing still.

We had no comms via VHF/UHF and no cell coverage either!  Welcome to Africa!

We went back to the gate to receive further instructions and there we bumped into Chris ZS2AAW who asked us to assist with deploying “his repeater” which was a commercial one for the rangers who were also manning some of the checkpoints.  This involved a long ride around the outside of the park – but did provide an opportunity to get back into cell range – and range of the other VHF stations.

All sorted!  Thankfully it was all sorted out by the time I could get into contact and that is only one of the reasons I love my wife!

And so we drove and drove we did – around behind the prison and into the park from the other side.  We deployed the repeater and then made our way down the steep hill into the river bed below and passed the checkpoint, heading towards the house Chris and Michael (ZS2MG) would be “roughing it” in.

We turned right and they turned left – and so it came to pass that we ended up where we were supposed to be and they were full up!

Our brief was to deploy a cross band repeater to connect deep valley checkpoints with the JOC and for that we would need more height.

Driving past “checkpoint 8” we looked for higher ground.  Turning down a road marked “No Entry” had its rewards as we climbed onto a saddle and found a gem of a campsite!  But by now it was dark.

A few signal checks and it seems like the site will work.  GV puts up the repeater with a mobile antenna while I get supper on the go and sort out the tent.

We slept like babies!

Early Saturday morning Eric was on the air looking for anyone awake.  As if he had nothing better to do!

Eric was early in the race and Mike had a satelite phone, so we were defunct by lunchtime and could pack up and go home.  When GV asked if we could stand down we were given permission, but then chris asked if we could please retrieve his repeater as this would save them time later.

Instead of taking a leisurely lunch and slowly packing up, it now became a mission and we had to hurry to get to the repeater (on the other end of the park) and back again before dark.

The roads in the park are normally very good – you need a 4×4 in some of the more remote sections, but a normal sedan car gets you around 90% of the time.  If the roads get wet they “turn to snot” and its 4×4 or broke.

The Mazda impressed me!  Ok, its not a Jimny, but it did a fine job all the same.

We took the repeater back to Chris and Mike at the Kaboga house (see pics below).  How they got a string UHF signal from that house to us over the amphitheater I really don’t know!

We followed Chris out – “‘cos all he had was a fortuner and we had a 4×4!”

       

Herald MTB and Road Race 2018

A different place this time – not the bottom of tank hill as per the previous few years, but tank top!  Yes – and I mentioned it on air too – that I was rocking the “tank top”!

Graydon, ZU2GH, my son manned the bottom of the hill and we had a great walk in and out again afterwards.  Add to that the really great experience of having the young man join us at the braai the night before and you start to realize how lucky a bugger I am!

Tank Top is at a strategic split in the routes with the 80Km riders turning down the hill (to where Graydon was) and the 9Km riders going straight ahead.  The inbound path was a little overgrown, resulting in the signage as placed by the organizers being “around the corner” and it seemed inevitable that someone was going to fall.  I called it in and was given permission to move the markers into a better, more visible place and I believe we saved some skin in doing so.

17 February was the race day and we got into camp on the Saturday (16 Feb) and had a great time with friends from PEARS.  Missing from the usual suspects were Colin and Jimmy (ZR2CRS and ZS2JIM) who were away and Gert ZS2GS who joined us on the Sunday morning.

Sunday morning we were needed in place by 05:30 for a comms check, so those who drove out on the day had to leave very early!  Eric and Isolda, as usual, had a nap after the race before traveling home.

As I have mentioned, this is one of my favorite events, but having Gray join me made it the best one yet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road Race takes place a week later and is a completely different kettle of fish!  Drive your car to the point, take a big mast (needed this time in the new location at the bottom of the wall) and drive home later that same day.

 

 

 

 

Sunday 24th came and went – not my favorite event by any means, but it does help pay the bills for PEARS.

The Cockscomb Inn

 So, really, how long does it take to deploy a repeater?

Well, that is a bit like “How long is a piece of string?”.  You see, I have deployed the Hamnet portable repeater in about 10 minutes – including a 5 minute chopper ride, but sometimes it takes a bit longer!

PEARS and Hamnet Eastern Cape do a lot of Mountain Bike races and we have a new one this year – the Cockscomb Challenge and for that we needed to reinstall the repeater at Cockscomb.

Now Cockscomb is a popular climb for hikers and members of the Mountain Club.  There are two caves – both quite famous near the bottom of the final ascent.  The mountain club one is basic with limited water supply, but the other is rather like the Ritz!

The touristy peak is not, however, the peak on which this story plays out.  The radio repeaters are on a peak to the South West of the famous peak – and a lot less hospitable.

The repeater guys in the club are Chris ZS2AAW, Andrew Gray ZS2G and Glen ZS2GV.  GV and Chris were going to go up on Monday 12 February to do the installation.  Unfortunately, Chris had to withdraw and I volunteered to go.

GV picked me up Monday morning and we made our way to the PE Airport where our Squirrel helicopter was waiting for us.  Not long after that we were airborne and routing for Cockscomb.  Our pilot, James, had seen the peak earlier on his flight into PE and said it all looked good,

Bevan, ZS2RL, was going to take out the mast and coax rack for us and the landlord (owner of the site) wanted to do some maintenance, so a lift club was organized.  James would take GV and I to the peak, then go down to the cell tower at the southern side of the Cockscomb range and meet up with Bevan and the landlord team and bring them to the peak – along with our mast and rack.  Once all was done, James would take me down to the cell tower and Bevan would take me home.

Well that was the plan.

The landlord wanted to do some serious maintenance – replacing the floor and the batteries for a start – and then we would be able to put our repeater in some available spot.  Well they were running a little late and then asked us to disconnect 8 of the 12 batteries and to remove the duplexer for their midband repeater and move them to the LZ (helicopter Landing Zone) – a mere 20m away from the container!

It took quite a while to get that done.  At this stage the repeaters were all sharing the remaining 4 batteries and the batteries were about to be replaced…

Bevan at the bottom noticed some bad weather coming in and told us to hurry.  We were still waiting for the landlord and then they bailed – asking us to simply put the stuff back!  Oh, and hurry ‘cos the clouds are moving in fast!

Let’s do what we can and get outta here!

Without our mast and rack (which was still with Bevan at the bottom).  Looking around at the skeleton remains of some other commercial repeaters we found a 6 foot aluminum pole and a 4 foot aluminum pole and that would do nicely.  We put the 4foot one across from the mast to the rail track upright and the 6 foot went up from there.  We put up a small dipole (UHF) and ran the coax down the mast, through the 4 foot pole to the mast and then onto the pre-existing rack and down to the container.  the lightning arrestor was put in and the fly-lead made by Chris fitted on the inside.

Its coming together quickly now!

Ok, GV, you install the repeater into the rack and I’ll fetch the batteries and that GD duplexer!

Bevan on the radio – reminding us of the inbound weather – something to keep us motivated 😉

We got the batteries back into the container and all connected up – a quick call for a signal check and its perfect!  James had moved the chopper from the southern slopes to a saddle on the northern side in an attempt to give us more time, but our luck had run out.  James took off to the north and said he’d be back in the morning.

Ok, so we on the mountain for the night.  Time to take stock.

I had packed some extra food, had dry/warm clothing and water.  GV was a little shy.  We needed to get water.  Shelter was there – there was standing/sitting room in the container – but not enough space for even a shorty like me to get horizontal!

The weather was basically misty with very strong/gale force winds.  Visibility was about 10m and getting worse all the time.  Walking out was not the smart move – we had shelter and known coordinates and a little bit of thought and we solved the water issue.

We took the door off of the rack in the container and tied it to the mast at an angle.  Water condensed and ran off the door to the lowest point – which ended up in GV’s bottle.  This then solved the water issue so we really had no need to venture out.

Except boredom!

Our cellphones were draining their batteries steadily and our handhelds had no chargers either.  I am fortunate in that I can reschedule my business life with a simple phone call to my very organized xyl.  GV does not have that luxury and had to continue taking calls from clients and his employer.  I let him use my power bank to float his battery for a while but with the inundation of WhatsApp messages we were both fighting a loosing battle.  Why did neither of us have a wrist watch?  We both techie geeks who use our cell phones – that’s why!

The boredom abated for a short while while we enjoyed our supper of tuna and provita.  While it does not sound like much, it really was plenty of food.  I had a BarOne for pudding, but something told me I had no idea how cold we were going to get – and GV was still in damp clothing.  I decided to keep the chocolate – incase I needed it later.  I was well aware of the fact that if either of us started to get hypothermic there was nothing we could do and chocolate might come in handy.

And the evening’s entertainment?

Monday evening is the PEARS news bulletin and we turned on when we thought it was time – only to find we had basically missed it.  I did manage to hear my son call in and mention that they were looking for us.

Sitting in the container we were in a veritable Faraday cage.  We could get a signal from the LZ, but that was out in the dark/cold/wet/wind outside.  Bev was aware of our situation – I’d called her and told her the facts – we were safe, warm, dry, had food and water and were in no danger – and she understood.

The rest of the night was spent in alternating periods of sleep, chatter, and boredom.  It is amazing just how numb your bum can get sitting for hours at a time!  Lets be clear – this had nothing to do with the various topics of conversation or my “cell mate”.  Long dark hours with no real indication of time was boring.

Tuesday morning

Tuesday morning was a gloomy start.  Pushing the door open a few degrees revealed the hostile weather we had all night!  No sign of the sun coming out – not even for that poor orphan girl Annie!

It began to sink in that at least an early morning lift off the mountain was not going to happen.  Realising there was no rush we tucked ourselves back into bed and told room service not to disturb us.  Ok, you got me – we just sat on our ammo boxes a while longer 🙂

Bevan and Gert arrived again – to keep an eye on the southern slopes of our holiday resort.  It is quite amazing what a comfort that was.  Although we understood they could not reach us – or really do anything to assist, they were there and it meant a lot.

I had a few brief walks outside (because I could) and the time passed surprisingly quickly.  It was now raining and collecting further water was a simple task and did not really justify the hours we devoted to it (or perhaps that was just the boredom).

Our hearts were lifted with a cheerful ZS2RL (Bevan) telling us there was a possible lifting in the weather toward the late afternoon.  James told us he could hold out until about 6:30 pm and if there was a gap in the clouds he would come and get us.  We made very sure we were ready to roll at a moments notice, but our rapid deployment was not needed.

Donovan (ZS2DL) a friend of Glen and his family, with the assistance of Chris (ZS2AAW) and a few other hams tried to get Nicole (ZU2NX – GV’s daughter) on the air.  Glen has an interesting shack and it took a while – and a few trips to get the shack on the air.  Donovan then allowed the rest of the family to chat (under his supervision) and that was great.  Unfortunately, the courtesy was not extended to Bev, but that is OK as she is used to me getting into these sort of situations.  Vanessa and the girls benefited from the airtime with dad.

I must just brag for a minute here – so please forgive me the indulgence 🙂  My sons are both Hammies (like Nicole) and have ZU licenses.  Graydon (ZU2GH) had attempted to make contact Monday evening, and my youngest Michael, made contact with me while I was at the LZ (waiting for Nicole to come online).  My Hammies got on the air without the need for half a dozen hams to run around all afternoon!  A quick chat to Mike (ZU2MOO) and then we handed over to the Cummings crew – but I was very proud!

18:30 ticked by with a gong louder than that from Big Ben!  It came right down to it – another night at the resort!

As if to taunt us, the air cleared – almost completely at about 8pm.  Too late for James as it was getting dark, but by 8:30 pm it was back to the misty mountain top that was our home.

As the evening crept over us, we began to take stock again.  Battery levels were very low, morale however, was still surprisingly high.  I had taken to turning my phone off most of the time and just turning it on for a few minutes every few hours.  The problem was that by now our story was wide spread and WhatsApps were in the several hundreds each time I turned on.  When your battery is at a few percent of capacity, receiving messages is only a part of the problem – you then need to scroll through these messages to find any that are important.

You should have seen some of the messages!  Everything ranging from “I could walk them out in two hours” to “I’ve got a 4×4 I’ll go fetch them!” from people who did not even know which peak we were on, or the type of terrain!  There were, of course, the “leave them up there” jokes which, while we took no offense to them, did serve as QRM on our cell phones and cost us valuable battery life.

Supper consisted of the much talked about, Bar-One!  You divide and I’ll decide – it’s child’s play really.

Now before you think we were starving – let me reassure you we were not.  We were in no way active and a half a Bar-One was enough to see us through.  I have been asked by many people if I ever thought of eating Glen – and my answer was always the same – Have you smelt him?  It would take me weeks to get THAT hungry!

Can’t get worse?  Is that a challenge?

We were bored and the long dark hours passed very slowly.  We were nodding off every now and then – followed by standing up to “let more o2 get to the brain”.  Somewhere around 1am I opened the door to see a large flash of lightning!

thunderstorms were raging south, east, and north of us.  I can only assume they were on the western side too – but I was not going to go outside to confirm.

Great!

Accepting there was nothing I could do, I went back to my ammo case and was soon nodding off again.

The plan was to get a chopper lift off early in the morning, failing which would have the Mountain rescue guys climbing up to bring us additional gear and food and to walk us out.

Dawn broke to the sound of gusting winds outside. We naturally assumed we would be spending several more hours on the summit, eagerly awaiting the MCSA group – many of whom are personal friends and people with whom we work on MCSA / Hamnet exercises.

Eventually I ventured out only to be greeted by a stunning (but windy) morning.  ZS2RL and ZS2GS, already back at their post at the foot of the mountain were keen to tell us the chopper was already airborne and on its way!

We were at the LZ with no need for a further invitation!  GV directed James in – indicating the wind direction and James landed that Squirrel as if it had sore feet! I certainly could not have done a better job!

James indicated we could approach and we did – quickly.  GV opened the door while I started lifting the ammo cases.  Now I am not sure, but I am pretty convinced that the ammo cases themselves wanted to leave and were jumping into the chopper themselves.  It did make me realize that while we had spent way too many hours sitting on the ammo cases, they could not have enjoyed it as much!

 

A few brief moments later we were in the chopper, airborne and talking to James who was amazed at how chirpy we were.

The familiar glow of orange from the MCSA crowd at the bottom LZ showed us the wind direction and James once again landed the chopper like a pro – having done a very low pass over Bevan and Gert.

The reception at the bottom was on a par with a hero’s welcome!  It was awesome! James had breakfast for us, my son Graydon had traveled out with my good friend Andrew Gray (Hamnet director EC) and everything very quickly returned to normal.

 

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Gert (ZS2GS) and to Bevan (ZS2RL) who drove out to the mountain daily – for three days straight.  I really appreciate your support.  And to GV who put up with me in a confined space and did not kill me – Thank you.

 

 

       

 

          

Hogsback 2017 SOTA

The saltmine has kept me from SOTA and playing radio in general, but when I told the XYL in March that the long weekend in June would be a SOTA weekend she agreed.  She probably needs the quiet time as much as I do 😉

The months and months between March and June saw me getting more and more excited about getting out of the office and into the mountains.  Hennie (ZS2HC) was on standby (since March) and also keen.  It was agreed we would meet in Hogsback and stay at the Swallowtail caravan park as our regular (Forresters House) was booked.  The Swallowtail caravan park is over priced, unlevel, and offers campers no shelter from the wind.  That said, it would be home from Friday midday to Monday morning.  Swallowtail charges R140 pppn for a camp site.

Time being the biggest resource constraint, we planned to do 4 summits in 2 days.  A tall ask, but we had done them all before and now we knew some shortcuts.

Friday I drove through to Hogsback leaving an hours or so later than I had initially planned – my day off was not a full day off, but the weekend was calling!  The drive was long and the stop-go strips (near Fort Beaufort) were tedious.

Friday afternoon was spent with Hennie in the camp and making an early braai.  Some Whisky was consumed (for medicinal purposes and to keep warm) and the evening was pleasant.  We had set up a 160m dipole across the lawn of the caravan park (it was just about empty and I know why).  We called but with no joy it was decided rather an early night for a big day awaited.  Neither could sleep, so plan B was implemented.  Pub-crawl through Hogsback village.  Well I am sure there are places one could have gone that we missed, but the two place we visited proved worlds apart.

The first was a small pub in town next to the hardware store – called the Hog and something (didn’t read it on the way in and couldn’t on the way out).  A single Whisky sets you back R15, the bar lady drinks red wine by the glass while she slowly drinks her patrons clever.  After that Hennie insisted we go to “Away with the fairies” and have “one for the road”.  It was of course almost 500m we had to travel, so a stop over was agreed.  Away with the Fairies is a nice place to stay, but it is more of a “hippie” sort of camp where you pass out rather than the traditional (more structured) caravan park we had made our home.

We arrived just in time for the last round and took the drinks to the communal fire outside.  Around the fire we chatted to a Scotish lass whos smile and bust negated the need for a name, and we eventually left there (having to wake the groundsman to let us out).  A single Whisky here sets you back R37.50.

The wind on Friday night was gale force.  The tent took it but flapped and flapped.  Although we were warm and out of the wind, the night’s sleep was not as wonderful as it might have been.

Saturday morning after breakfast we headed off to conquer the Hog itself!  Now I climbed the Hog last year with my son Graydon (ZU2GH) and it was an all day affair – from pre-dawn to after sunset.  This time, however, we did not need to climb from Madonna and Child – we had found a road to the saddle just below the Hogs themselves – and this saved us hours and a LOT of effort.  From a full day to a morning (and a bit) and that is what we call progress.

The afternoon saw us across town activating Menziesberg.  It was great to “bump into” our old friend Gerald (ZS5GS).  We also bumped into ZS6TAN, Mario who was banging out a great signal from ZS6 land – on World QRP day.  Menzies is an easy one – really points for nothing compared to some other SOTA climbs around here, but is offers incredible views across the valley and the village.

Saturday evening saw us making a potjie and later again trying 160m.  Ok, Hennie did the potjie and I worked 160m.  Andrew Gray (ZS2G) heard me on 160m, but since I was using HIS dipole, he could only receive and that meant the scorecard for 160m contacts remained at an all time low of 0.

Sunday morning on Tor Doone is a sight to behold.  Breathtaking beauty as you look back across the village toward Menzies where we had been the previous afternoon.  Tor Doone holds a big spot in my heart – it was the first time I worked “DX” – I worked Namibia on 5w from a mountain top.  An awesome feeling!

After Tor Doone it was “the big one”.  Gaikaskop.  We have only climbed Giakaskop once before, and that was on a very misty day and navigation was by GPS – step by step.  I know you think we crazy, but we had checked where the cliffs and dangerous areas were on Google Earth and maps while still planning the trip, so it was not as dangerous as it might sound.  On that occasion the view from the top was limited to say the least – and we had felt robbed of part of the reward.  This time, however, there was no mist and the view was amazing.  See pics below…(I have not posted the usual tons of pics for the other summits – you can catch them in past articles if you want to.)

Giakaskop climb starts from the abandoned fire lookout tower.  From here you climb onto the saddle and then ascend from the back to arrive on top – a flat expanse of land you would never expect when you look at the cliff-face.  An amazing view of Tor Doone “down there” tells us the view was awesome.  See the pictures below…

Now I’m not one to complain much, but there is something that bugged me while on Gaikaskop.  There we are – backs to the wind, lying down next to the base of the trig beacon with a simple wire dipole a few meters above the ground and we pumping out 5W.  We calling CQ SOTA and mentioning QRP and there are a few stations who reply wanting to make contact with “the QRP station in Hogsback”.  Each time we try call one of these stations, a certain ZS6 QRO station asks the other station if they can copy “the QRP station in Hogsback”.

In spite of the other stations asking him to give us a chance, it takes nearly two and a half hours to get the required 4 contacts.  We needed the contacts before we could pack up and get off the mountain.  The other factor, of course, is that we do not have an endless supply of battery power either!  As a general request, please, if you hear a QRP/SOTA station, please give us a chance and DON’T talk all over us.  There is a place for linear amplifiers, big rigs and super yagis, but there is a place for QRP too.

We got off the mountain in time to see the sunset dipping behind the horizon and headed back, tired but relieved, to the campsite where we celebrated with a few beers, a fire, some meat and the rest of the whisky.

Monday morning we packed up in the rain and headed our separate ways without breakfast.  Home safe and sound, we start planning the next thing!

Potjie on its way...

Potjie on its way…

Hennie fixing the radio!

Hennie fixing the radio!

SOTA Mast with no guylines!  Like magic!

SOTA Mast with no guylines! Like magic!

Looking down on Tor Doone from Giakaskop

Looking down on Tor Doone from Giakaskop

The top of Giakaskop

The top of Giakaskop

Giakaskop trig beacon

Giakaskop trig beacon

Campsite at Swallowtail

Campsite at Swallowtail

A view of Hog 1 over the dam

A view of Hog 1 over the dam

Ironman 2017

Why would you want to be an Ironman when you are already a Tin God?

Ok, that is just because I don’t train nearly enough for that sort of thing.

I have done a couple of Ironman events – and they all basically setup a station along the route and report in race leaders, tail enders, and anything interesting until they all past your point and you can go home.  Ok, there is a little more to it than that, like some mobile hams – traveling the route in a vehicle checking on things.  Oh and the larnies – keeping the race coordinators, owners, and managers in contact.

This Ironman was different.  Well at least for me – I had some Hammies and they made me proud!  I was asked if I could man a station which would be on the cycle and the run routes.  This means get in before the road closures and leave after midnight.  I was then asked if I could man the route clear vehicle (the vehicle that drives the route before things get going to make sure the route markers, bollards, traffic cones etc. are in place.  A lot of fun driving around, but who would setup and man my station in the mean time?

Dakota and Mike (ZU2DW and ZU2MOO) not only setup the station, but the ran it until I could get back there after my “morning drive”.

This was not the total Hammies involvement either – by special request, Graydon ZU2GH was assigned to the race coordinator and followed her around like a lost puppy.  A responsible job, well done. Graydon also assisted with the deployment of the temporary repeater on the Radisson Blue hotel (see pics below).

I was so proud of my Hammies!

On a personal note, my brother did not take part in the event this year, but had completed an Ironman the previous year – along with a Two Oceans Ultra and the comrades.  Proud of him too!

Ironman 2017 - ZU2GH Graydon - Radisson repeater installation

Ironman 2017 – ZU2GH Graydon – Radisson repeater installation

Ironman 2017 - Radisson repeater installation

Ironman 2017 – Radisson repeater installation

XYL with the tent behind her - prepared for sleepy Hammies!

XYL with the tent behind her – prepared for sleepy Hammies!

Ironman 2017 field station.

Ironman 2017 field station.

Ironman 2017 - antenna for Radisson repeater

Ironman 2017 – antenna for Radisson repeater

Addo Extreme 2017

The Addo Extreme was one of those inspiring events that I started as a Radio Ham and will finish up as a competitor.  The Addo Extreme is a trail run of note!  160Km for the crazy people, 42Km for the rest and some shorter runs too.

Now I never thought I’d like to enter this sort of event, but man – next year, Andrew ZS2G, Bev and I are going to enter the 42Km race.  Ok, we will just “turbo-hike” it, but it is inspirational how these people just keep going.

Ok, back to the report on the event.  We camped on a part of the reserve not even open to the public!  an awesome experience with sunrise and sunset pics from the campsite – only a different direction from the tent!  Stunning views and incredible quiet!  Quiet even to the point that there were no spectators or loud music support stations!  An absolute gem of a weekend!

The wind was terrible, but we survived by dropping the tent.  The wind rocked the bakkie, bent the tent and totaled the Gazebo!

In all we camped from the Thursday afternoon through to the Sunday morning – all completely off grid and lekker!

For those of you with a good cheap internet connection, you can see a bunch of additional photos here.

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