For a while I’ve had the idea that it would be cool to do some portable radio stuff from the southern most tip of Africa (Cape Agulhas) – There’s two problems with this: 1. My holiday house is much closer to Cape Infanta, and 2. Cape Agulhas is a bit boring since it’s basically a parking lot that you can drive to.
I try to get out as early as possible. My current thinking is try and be walking before sunrise to maximise on the cooler hours for hiking and get some great photos.
As usual I left planning to the last minute, so didn’t have a clear idea of what the route would be. I left home around 5:30 and drove the 40km to the sleepy Village of Cape Infanta around 6am. It was just after new years, peak holiday time, and every second home had a lawn strewn with children’s bicycles left overnight in perfect safety. It was strangely heartwarming to see that.
Because I didn’t have a plan, I just drove to the corner of the village that was closest to where I wanted to be hiking and parked. There was no clear path up onto the hill but I’m used to bundu bashing and pushed my way through some reeds, a dry riverbed and up the opposite embankment and started walking towards the part of the map that I thought was most interesting.
In hindsight I now know that there is an official start to this hiking trail that boringly has a “designated parking area” and actual “walking paths”, but I regret nothing. (really I don’t, I enjoy not knowing what to expect around the next corner).
I clambered up the hill, heading in an easterly direction towards the “Cape” and eventually spotted a gravel road in the distance and headed for that.
Once on the road the pace picked up and I realised that I was likely following a trail that went right to the spot I’d intended to go to. The walk was lovely and cool. The gravel road eventually petered into a single trail, the sun in my face lens-flaring the hills ahead. Magnificent!
Eventually you reach the sea, the trig beacon, the magnificent cliffs and the water which seemed to be painted with 5 different shades of blue making you think it couldn’t possibly be as cold as you know it really is.
I set up my antenna on the trig beacon and ran my antenna cables to the flat rocks overlooking the sea. From here I listened to some Americans chatting and tried to make contact, but I just wasn’t getting out. (I’ll explain this in a future post, but bursts of energy from the sun can take my tiny little signal and boost it along the troposphere and deliver it to someone in America as if I was just down the road, or not, most often not).
There were plenty of South African’s chatting on other frequencies and I listened in as I scouted out the area trying to figure out how I was going to set up a shelter to avoid getting sunburnt. Eventually I relocated away from the cliffs and set up my little tarp in some small shrubs that I could sit under. It was barely 8am and I could tell it was going to be a stinker of a day. I’ve learnt that it is important to build a shelter before things get hairy, a few hours later when you’re already burnt and dehydrated is not the time to be engaging your cognitive abilities to construct some shelter. (Often because you just couldn’t be assed by that stage and instead get roasted by the sun)
After speaking to a few people from Africa, I switched to digital modes (JS8Call) and immediately, almost surprisingly, made contact with an Australian station. This was my first time “talking” to Australia and it kind of made sense, since I was on the East cost. This was the start of a few hours of testing one of the cooler features of JS8Call, the ability to relay a message from one station to another. Through the Australian station I was able to talk to a station in the Philippines, and technically we would be able to relay that message further, hopping via ham radio operators on every continent on the planet.
This might seem like a weird thing to do, but as an experiment it highlights how you could be pretty much anywhere on the planet and be in contact with anyone else on the planet with only kit you’re both able to carry on your backs (and not using satellites). Some radio people will tell you this is important in case of a global catastrophe where all the communications satellites are shut down by a foreign superpower. I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s just super nerdy and fun and I don’t need to rationalise my hobbies to anyone.
As usual, coffee and batteries eventually ran down and spent around 30 minutes packing up and appreciating the view before heading back to the car.
Date: 4 January 2019
Distance and Elevation: 6km and 80m Elevation Gain.
Coordinates: My Parking spot -34.424086, 20.8561665 Trig Beacon: -34.429609, 20.8671564 The correct starting point: -34.422157, 20.8524268
Conditions: You are quite exposed at the trig beacon so ensure you take some form of shade or don’t plan to hang around very long.
Radio Stuff: You’ll definitely need a mast, take some straps to attach it to the trig beacon.
Notes: It’s probably a good idea to do a little bit of Google Earth research before setting out on a mission like this so that you don’t end up bashing through riverbanks to get to where you want to be.