Wilbert ZL2BSJ operated from Quartz Hill in the Stew Perry Topband Distance Challenge on 30/31 December. Participants get points according to distance worked: one point for each QSO and an additional point for each 500 kms worked. Here is the report from Wilbert.

The 2006 Topband Challenge was a part-time activity for me as commitments got in the way.

'Topband' - as 160 is referred to by the Gurus - is a quirky band ... and an acquired taste! It helps if you are somewhat mad already. For a start, 160 often suffers from wall-to-wall mind-altering static. In addition, the band is deemed to be 'absorption-limited', not MUF-limited like our higher HF bands.

In order to push one's signal over the QRN threshold, QRO is almost mandatory. Operating QRP or even barefoot can be an exercise in frustration. To beat the QRN, top banders resort to strange receive-only contraptions like beverages, short phased verticals and tuned loops.

Another aspect of 160 m is, that it may show weird 'spot-light' propagation that (sometimes) coincides with sunrise or sunset at the local or DX end. Great propagation to one area is no guarantee for even a poor opening to somewhere else.

Quarz Hill is well set up for 160 m with a 'Tee' (a top-loaded vertical over a set of elevated radials) and a couple of half-wave slopers. All antennas were found to be operational.

The first W6 and W7 signals were audible 1.5 hours before sun-set, but I had to wait until 15 minutes to sun-set before the first station went into the log. The spot-light seemed to be firmly on the South-Western US with W7 peaking strongly.

No Eu stations were worked, however. GM3POI in Scotland was copied weakly on the long path, with ZL sunset coinciding with GM sunrise, but no QSO could be made. TF and OX, known to be active, could not be found. Even VE was mostly hiding behind the Aurora belt; only one VE7 was worked.

Soon after sunset the band started to go down-hill and by midnight the wheels fell off completely.

Nevertheless, 43 QSOs were made during four hours of tuning and calling, which isn't too bad by 160 m standards from this part of the world. Interesting DX: PJ2/WB9Z, but both KP2 and P40 got away. The sunset W7 opening was good enough for several low-power stations and even a QRP station to be worked.

At Quartz Hill, part of the DX segment is unusable due to strong QRM from the differential GPS transmitter on Tinakori Hill. Only frequences below 1812 and above 1824 are OK ... which adds to the challenge.

Top Banders have strong views on the use of DX spotting Clusters. I always find that it increases the entertainment value of contesting - something to look at, once you have worked the band dry. So, until the Contest Committee offers a plague for 'Best Cheat' - there used to be an award for 'Best Whinge', withdrawn after complaints were received - the ZL2BSJ log will be submitted as a checklog.

Posted by ZL1AZE on January 01, 2007