Some new SOTA awards earned

For quite some time, the SOTA awards scheme has been operating on a very restricted basis. A few weeks ago, resumption of the issuing of Awards certificates was announced. Each certificate still has a cost, but now one can apply for a certificate and save on postage costs by selecting to receive the document as a pdf file.

I did some checking and applied for some certificates earned over the last couple of years, some of which were qualified quite some time ago. April 2017 seems to feature!

Mountain Hunter Platinum

Awarded for having worked at least 2 summits in each of 20 or more SOTA Associations.

VK3PF_MountainHunterPlatinumS

Mountain Hunter Platinum Award

Activator 2500 points earned

In recognition of having activated summits worth a total of 2500 points.

VK3PF_Activator_2500s

Activator 2500 points

SOTA Complete 250

In recognition of having “Completed” (both chased and activated) 250 different summits.

VK3PF_Complete_250s

SOTA Complete 250 unique summits

Chaser 1000 uniques

For having chased at least 1000 different SOTA summits.

VK3PF_Chaser_1000_UniqueSummitsS

Chaser 1000 Unique Summits

Chaser 30,000 points earned

For having earned over 30,000 SOTA Chaser points.

VK3PF_Chaser_30ks

Chaser 30000 points

Mountain Goat CW only

For having activated using CW and earning 1000 Activator points. This award requires that at least four (4) different callsigns are worked on each summit using CW (Morse code), with the points totalling at least 1000 points.

VK3PF_MountainGoat_CWs

Mountain Goat Award certificate – All CW

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A long day to Jamieson Lookout Track

Sunday 15 March 2020

Ross VK3NRB was keen for another day out playing radio. We discussed options and decided to head to another of the “new” summits added on 1 November 2019, even though it required a long drive – estimated at 3 hours plus each way.

We headed off at around 0800 with stops at the local Bakery to grab some food and a fuel stop in Traralgon before heading to Licola and then up the Jamieson – Licola Road. The scenery during the drive was excellent, with clear skies and some clouds in the valleys. The drive was uneventful apart from a few partial road blockages with trees down to dodge and then several cows on the summit of Mount Skene. We continued on towards Jamieson and I considered which of three final approach routes to take.

I opted for the middle approach, on an unnamed track starting at 37.31734 S 146.22964 E. The track headed off at an acute left hand junction, so I drove beyond the junction to turn around and start the climb with a gentle turn. Before I started, I engaged 4WD. The track was straightforward, with several spoon drains to negotiate and a tight section around a fallen tree. We joined Jamieson Lookout Track south of the track junction we needed and swung north to climb up to the top of the knoll and the junction. I then swung west onto the track tot eh summit, also called Jamieson Lookout Track. After about 2.5 km of driving on a narrow track with more spoon drains and some fallen trees to dodge, we reached the summit.

VK3/VE-257 (unnamed) 910 m 6 points Not previously activated

We drove over the top of the summit and executed a U turn at a spoon drain, crossed back over the summit and parked at a wider spot just east of and only a few metres below the summit.

I posted a Spot to SOTAwatch indicating that I was on site and setting up. I tossed a line over a tree branch and hauled up the ZS6BKW. We set up a table and chairs about 6 metres behind the vehicle.

On switching on, I found Ian VK5CZ/p on VK5/NE-055 calling on 7.032 MHz. After working Ian, I moved up to 7.034 MHz, spotted and started calling. There I worked John ZL1BYZ, John VK5HAA and Gerard VK2IO. With no further responses to calls, I moved down to 80 m CW, spotted and started calling. I had some strange occurrence with the KX2 – it went into Tx and would not switch back. I powered the radio down and restarted it, but the issue persisted. Another power down, with a longer pause before powering up resolved the issue. I worked Tony VK3CAT, Andrew VK2UH, Warren VK3BYD and John VK2YW.

I moved up to 80 m SSB to work Geoff VK3SQ and Warren VK3KS. Ross also worked both Geoff and Warren. Ross then headed down the hill to chase me on 2 m FM. We then swapped places so that I could chase Ross on the summit.

Back on the summit, I moved to 40 m SSB and soon worked Ray VK4NH and John VK4TJ. Rob VK4AAC/3 was spotted for 80 m but I could not raise him. I called Rob on the phone and found that his antenna was not cooperating on 80 m. I suggested that we try 40 m, and Rob soon called. Contact made. Rob was in Goomalibee Nature Conservation Reserve VKFF-2097, just NW of Benalla. We both worked Rob and then closed down.

PF_VE-257s

VK3PF operating on VK3/VE-257

After packing up, I retraced my route back to the knoll with the track junction and decided to exit to the north along Jamieson Lookout Track. The track was reasonable – wider than the trip out to the summit, with some spoon drains and more fallen trees to dodge. The final sharp turn was accompanied by a steeper drop off than anticipated, with a steep section down to the Jamieson – Licola Road. We then headed east and south back to Mount Skene.

Mount Skene VK3/VE-031 1565 m 10 points

The cows had moved from the summit. We found a group sitting by the sign at the high point of the road having lunch. We had a brief chat before I grabbed the 10 m squid pole and commenced strapping it to one of the two steel poles near the broken sign, which simply says 200 m walk, having lost the board indicating that the summit trig was nearby. I chatted with one of the other group, who indicated that he been introduced to electronic via a school science teacher. He had acquired a surplus radio (I forget the model) which was modified to a useful receiver. He went on to become an electronics engineer. He was interested in the antenna – we again used the ZS6BKW. He asked about working skip, and I indicated that it was not that easy at present with the state of the sunspot cycle. We continued setting up and chatting, until he said his goodbyes and the group left.

I saw a spot for John VK5HAA/p in Kenneth Stirling Conservation Park VKFF-0781 for 40 m CW. I soon had John in the log. I then moved down to 80 m CW  and worked Warren VK3BYD and Geoff VK3SQ. We then moved up to 40 m SSB to chase Rob VK4AAC/3, still in VKFF-2097. I returned to 80 m SSB and was called again by Geoff VK3SQ. Next we moved to 40 m SSB to attempt to chase Linda VK7QP/3 in William Hunter Flora Reserve VKFF-2486 near Marlo. With some assistance from Al VK7AN, Linda listened for me, but I was not decipherable. I asked Ross the grab the IC-7300 from the car and we soon had it connected up and set the power to 40 W. I was finally able to complete a contact with Linda for a new Park – I had activated the Park last year and Linda was only the second activation.

I moved to 40 m CW and worked John VK4TJ and Gerard VK2IO. I tried 20 m CW and worked Andrei ZL1TM but had no other callers. We packed up the gear and moved down to the lookout SE of the summit to take some photos. I left Ross behind so that I could chase the summit, after which Ross joined me at the lookout. We then headed back towards Licola.

Skene_N_E_Panorama1s

View from North around to SE. Mt Buller near the left around to Gable End.

Skene_S_W_Panorama1s

View from S around to W. Baw Baw Plateau on the left horizon.

We parked at the junction with the Australian Alps Walking Track, loaded up and started the climb to the next summit.

Mount Shillinglaw VK3/VE-068 1301 m 8 points

We climbed up the track to the high point, only about a metre or so below the actual summit. I tossed a line over a tree branch and hauled up the ink dipole. I did not bother with the 80 m extensions. Ross was trailing behind, so I worked him on 2 m FM whilst he he still outside the activation zone. Next was Paul VK5PAS/p in Totness Recreation Park VKFF-1754 on 40 m SSB. I moved down the band, spotted and started calling. Andrei ZL1TM was the first to respond, followed John VK4TJ and Adam VK2YK/5 in Cobbler Creek Recreation Park VKFF-1699. I moved down to 40 m CW and spotted. I worked Gerard VK2IO, John ZL1BYZ and David VK2JDR. With no further callers, I moved up to 20 m CW and worked Wynne ZL2ATH, but had no further calls. We packed up the station and I headed down the hill ahead of Ross, working him on 2 m FM once I was outside the activation zone.

The descent was easier than the climb and we were soon back at the car. We loaded the gear and headed back to Licola. I stopped at a view point on the climb to Burgoyne Gap, taking in the view and grabbing some photos looking up the Macalister River valley towards Licola. We then resumed the drive home, reaching our destination about 12 hours after we had departed.

GlenfallochView

Looking NW up the Macalister River valley, over Glenfalloch Station

Thanks to all who worked us during the day.

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A Sunday saunter north of Briagalong

Well, almost…. But a pleasant drive was had to reach another new summit and to visit two other summits.

Sunday 8 March 2020

I headed off from home for Maffra to pick up Ross VK3NRB and then we headed north to Boisdale, across to Briagalong and then towards Stockdale. Near Stockdale, we turned north on Insolvent Track and soon were travelling behind a 4WD with a trailer – we guessed heading out to collect firewood. At the top of the climb where the pine plantation ends, the other vehicle pulled over to let us pass. I quickly checked the map and resumed the route. The only trick is to watch for the junction where Insolvent Track swings right. We were soon at the prominent bend to the ENE of our target summit, a short distance beyond the junction with Stoney No 1 Road. There was plenty of space to park off the track on the eastern side.

VK3/VT-089 (unnamed) 488 m 1 point Not previously activated

This summit had been our potential fourth target last weekend.

The summit is about 200 m to the SW of the parking spot, with a climb of just under 50 m vertical. The country was relatively open and it was easy to dodge any fallen timber and scrub patches. We found a nice spot to set up and I tossed a line over a tree branch at about 8 m. I strung out a new 80-10 m end fed half wave antenna to use for the first time in the field. I tied the line roughly in the middle of its length and hauled it up. Ross tied off the far end as I found a length of line to hold the radio end to a fallen tree branch.

As I was setting up, Ross headed back down the hill to chase me on 2 m FM and therefore was the first contact with this summit.

I soon had the KX2 set up on 80 m and had an excellent match on the antenna. I spotted myself and started calling on 80 m CW. The first (and only) response came after seven minutes of calling and I soon had Ron VK3AFW in the log. Several further CQ calls went unanswered. I moved up to 80 m SSB and again spotted. Again I had no replies for several minutes before Ron called using his second callsign. I called for a further 5 minutes before moving up to 40 m CW and soon worked John VK4TJ, Gerard VK2IO and David VK2JDR.

I was about to move to 40 m SSB when I saw a spot on ParksnPeaks for Malcolm VK3OAK in VKFF-2141 on 80 m, so I quickly changed down to 80 m. Ross and I both worked Malcolm. I moved back to my previous 80 m frequency and worked Allen VK3ARH and Geoff VK3SQ. I then went to 40 m SSB and only worked Gerard VK2IO. It was now well after UTC rollover and we had both qualified the summit. For the last 20 minutes or so, we could hear chainsaws to our south, confirming our earlier guess about the 4WD vehicle and its occupants… We had been calling for about 50 minutes, so I decided against trying 20 m.

We packed up and started heading down the hill, with Ross lagging behind. Once I was almost back at the road, I worked Ross and thus had the SOTA Complete.

We loaded the gear into the vehicle and continued north along Insolvent Track and then swung west on Winkie Creek Track. This took us to Freestone Creek Road, which we crossed to reach Lloyd Knob Track. I engaged 4WD prior to dropping down the bank to ford Freestone Creek – the entire drive to this point had been in 2WD, with only pot holes and some shallow erosion gutters to negotiate.

I crossed the creek and started the climb up to the next summit. We encountered several steep spoon drains, some rocky patches, a couple of small trees across the track and some steep sections. I travelled over the summit by about 100 m to a spot which allowed for an easy U-turn and returned to the high point to park.

Lloyd Knob VK3/VT-063 553 m 2 points

I first activated this summit back in late June 2018. This would be the summit’s second activation.

I again tossed a line over a tree and this time hauled up the ZS6BKW. We set up the station using a folding table and sat only a few metres from the vehicle. I was about to spot myself when I saw a spot for Glenn VK3YY on Mount Beenak VK3/VC-016. I quickly dialled up the correct frequency, not really expecting to hear Glenn as he would probably be in the skip zone. I could hear him weakly and tried calling a couple of times on voice, without any response from Glenn. At the end of his next CQ call, I sent my callsign in CW and Glenn responded on CW. We soon had a CW contact in the log – thanks Glenn. I moved down to 40 m CW and spotted and soon worked Gerard VK2IO, Ian VK5CZ and John VK5HAA. I then moved down to 80 m CW and worked Ron VK3AFW but had no further callers. I then tried 80 SSB and worked Ron VK3ZLP.  A move to 40 m SSB yielded Mark VK7ME, Ian VK5IS and John VK4TJ. I called for several more minutes without any responses. I tried catching Rob VK4AAC/3 in VKFF-2145 but could not hear him. I called Rob on the ‘phone and he explained that he was having lunch but also had antenna issues on 80 m. We agreed to try later after he had finished lunch. Rob could not solve the antenna issue, so no contact was made.

VK portalog announced a new SOTA spot and I quickly moved to 40 m CW and waited for a chance to call Tony VK3CAT/p on Federation Range VK3/VN-029 in VKFF-0556. Tony’s spot indicated that it was raining. I heard Tony work Glenn, with Glenn very weak to me. I called Tony and we soon had the contact in the log.

I then moved up to 20 m CW and worked John ZL1BYZ and Andrei ZL1TM. I then closed and started packing up. I started to drive down the hill, leaving Ross behind to walk. Once I was outside the AZ, I stopped and worked Ross for the chase and a new Complete. Ross joined me in a few minutes and we retraced our access route back to Freestone Creek Road, where we swung south. We travelled about 6.4 km to turn off onto Link Road. The drive down the Freestone Creek valley is narrow and sinuous but is quite spectacular with the rocky steep slopes of the valley.

We climbed up Link Road for about 3.7 km, driving past the summit on the road before a hard left turn to climb the rougher track up the firebreak to the summit.

VK3/VT-065 (unnamed) 513 m 2 points

I had first activated this summit back in August 2013, approaching from the west. There have been no activations since that activation. I guess that other activators have dismissed these low points value summits when there are higher value summits in the region.

I again tossed a line over a tree branch and hauled up the ZS6BKW. The folding camp table was again set up a metre or so from the vehicle. As I was setting up the station, Ross headed down the hill to make a contact on 2 m FM.

We could see rain approaching, so decided to start on 40 m SSB, hoping for a quick activation. The first caller was Roly ZL4AU in Invercargill. QSB meant that Ross failed to make a contact with Roly. Next was John VK4TJ, followed by Gerard VK2IO/m. Just as we finished with Gerard, the rain arrived. We quickly packed up the radio, pulled down the antenna and packed up. I drove down the hill to work Ross as he walked down, thus gaining the Complete.

We retraced our access route to Freestone Creek Road and again headed south. We encountered a few vehicles along the way, but soon reached the bitumen and then headed to Briagalong and back to Maffra.

It was an excellent day out. One new summit activated and chased plus two new summits chased and Complete.

Thanks Ross for the company and contacts. Thanks to all the chasers.

VT-089

The driving route for the day. Image thanks to Google Maps.

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Latest VKFF certificate – HR 1675

With all the hot weather and a very long fire season in the eastern half of Australia, the number of Parks activations has been low. That has slowed progress in building new Parks Hunted….

A few days ago, I checked Logsearch and saw that I had reached the next step of the VKFF Hunter Award Honour Roll – 1675 references hunted.

As always, many thanks to all Activators who have and continue to get out into the field to activate Parks references.

The last 25 new references came from several of the usual suspects plus a couple of amateurs that invited to come into the field with me and I managed to work them from outside the Park boundary for the Hunt. It took from 30 November 2019 to 1 March 2020 to work the latest 25 references. Thanks particularly go to Liz VK2XSE, Warren VK3BYD, Brett VK3FLCS, Ross VK3NRB, Sergio VK3SFG, Peter VK3TKK, Peter VK3ZPF, Rob VK4AAC, Marija VK5FMAZ, Paul VK5PAS, Andrew VK7DW and Angela VK7FAMP (in callsign alphabetic order).

VK3PF - VKFF Hunter Honour Roll 1675

The VKFF Hunter Award Honour Roll 1675 certificate

Thanks Paul for the location details: King George Sound in the Gull Rock National Park in Western Australia.

Thanks also to the entire VKFF admin team.

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SOTA trip to Motor Bike Hill

1 March 2020

One of the summits added to the VK3 SOTA Association on 1 November 2019 was Motor Bike Hill, located near Wrathung, on the north-eastern boundary of the upper Avon River catchment. The summit had not yet been activated for SOTA, so a plan was hatched to visit the site.

The new summit is about 6.5 km (as a bird flies) to the south of Lamb Hill VK3/VT-025. An option for the approach might have included Lamb Hill as a destination, approaching either via Tamboritha Saddle to reach the Moroka Road, or up Marathon Road and around Moroka Road to reach Moroka Range Track and then to the junction with Old Moroka Road. Climb and activate Lamb Hill, descend back to the vehicle and then south along Old Moroka Road to reach the new summit.

I opted for a different option, as I was aware that the lower part of my route was likely to be passable. There are likely other route options, but I simply opted for a route where at least part of the 4WD travel was known.

I arranged company for the trip. I departed home just after 0800 local and headed to Maffra to pick up Ross VK3NRB. We then headed north through Boisdale towards Valencia Creek and around to the low level bridge across the Avon River on Wombat Road. We then drove up Mount Angus Track to the unnamed summit VK3/VT-047, the end of my previous travels in this area. We then continued north to join Old Moroka Road and on to the junction with Pleydells Spur Track. The slopes on the western side of the track were steep. We turned into Pleydells Spur Track and climbed to the top of the spur to park at the sharp right turn in the track. We were within 40 metres horizontally of the summit and less than one metre in height of the summit. The trip to the summit was around 136 km from my home and took three hours travel time. There are plenty of views along the route.

Motor Bike Hill VK3/VT-084 979 m 6 points Not previously activated

We set up by tossing a line over a nearby tree branch to haul up the centre of the ZS6BKW antenna and then set up the station on a folding table. As I was setting up the KX2, Ross walked down the track to exit the activation zone. Ross was the first in the log on 2 m FM. I spotted myself on SOTAwatch for 40 m CW and started calling. It took many calls before I received any replies. Andrei ZL1TM was first on CW, followed by Allen VK3ARH several minutes later. I called for another 5 minutes with no further responses. I moved to 20 m CW, spotted and started calling.  Andrei called again, much stronger this time. Next was John VK4TJ, but again there were no further responses to my CQ calls. I received an SMS from Gerard VK2IO saying that he had missed me on 40 m, implying that he could not hear me on 20 m. With no further responses, I replied to Gerard and returned to 40 m CW to log him. I then moved to 80 m CW and worked four stations in about 15 minutes. Whilst working the CW contacts, I could hear some crashing noises in the scrub behind me. I asked Ross what was making the noise. He replied “A blue tongued lizard”. A couple of minutes later, he said I should look over my shoulder. I saw a large Lace Monitor Varanus varius – around 1.4 m long –  walking across the track (best guess at identity). I missed catching an image of the monitor, as I was in the middle of a contact and the monitor crossed the track quickly and disappeared into the scrub.

I gave up and moved to 80 m SSB. The aim now was to call and for stations to work both Ross and myself. First in the log on voice was Ron VK3ZLP, followed by Mark VK3PI operating special event callsign VI50AWS, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Western & Northern Suburbs Amateur Radio Club. Mark was activating Mount Macedon VK3/VC-007 and the Macedon Regional Park VKFF-0972. Mark also worked us both with his own call. Next in the log was Geoff VK3SQ, after we moved down in frequency away from a noise source at Geoff’s location.

We then packed up and started the descent, with Ross walking down with a handheld so that I could call him from lower down the track to chase the summit.

Once Ross arrived back at the car, we retraced our access route to return to VK3/VT-047. As we drove south, the views across the upper reaches of the Turton and Avon River valleys were excellent.

VK3/VT-047 (unnamed) 732 m 4 points
Avon Wilderness Park VKFF-0942

There is a helipad at the junction of Mount Angus Track and Avon Track, providing a nice cleared area with great views across the Avon River valley to the north and west. The Park boundary is along the track edges, placing the entire helipad inside the Park boundary. I tossed a line over a tree branch and again set up the ZS6BKW. We positioned the table in the shade at the northern edge of the helipad.

I was about to spot myself and saw a spot on ParksnPeaks for Linda VK7QP/3 in Screw Creek Nature Conservation Reserve VKFF-2188, near Inverloch. I quickly moved the radio to 80 m SSB and dialled up the correct frequency. Linda was working Mark VK3PI. We waited until the contact was completed and then called. Linda was an excellent signal, with 59 reports both ways. So we had a Park to Park contact as our first log entry. After Ross had worked Linda, we tuned down the band to find Mark VK3PI/VI50AWS for another Park to Park and also Summit to Summit contact. A good start to the activation!

Ross was hungry, so I moved to 80 m CW while he had lunch. I soon had Ron VK3AFW, Paul VK3HN, Allen VK3ARH and Warren VK3BYD in the log. Ross had walked down the hill and we worked on 2 m FM. VK Port-a-Log announced another Parks Spot, so we moved to 40 m SSB to work Malcolm VK3OAK/p in Dereel Lagoon Wildlife Reserve VKFF-2306. We then dropped down to 80 m SSB and worked Geoff VK3SQ before returning to 40 m SSB, working four more stations.

Ross_VK3_VT-047

Ross on VK3/VT-047 with the Avon and Turton River valleys behind.

We packed up and I started driving down the hill, with Ross having headed off on foot a minute earlier. I caught him and descended out of the AZ before calling him on 2 m FM for the chaser contact. We then returned back down to Valencia Creek. As we dropped into the valley floor, the increase in temperature was obvious – it was around 31 C compared to around 20 C higher up. We then headed across towards Briagalong and headed up Freestone Creek Road and worked our way around the tracks to reach our next target.

SOTA_Mapping project_20200301

SOTA Mapping Project map of the area visited.

Mount Moornapa VK3/VT-080 485 m 1 point
Mount Moornapa Flora Reserve VKFF-2401

On reaching the summit we could see two vehicles parked at the trig. We parked a short distance east of the trig off the edge of the track and in some shade. I again tossed a line over a branch to lift the ZS6BKW. We set up the station on the table a short distance from the vehicle.

Ross walked down the road whilst I finished the station set and we worked on 2 m FM. I spotted for 80 m CW and called many times before Warren VK3BYD called. I called a few more times before Warren called again, this time using his VK3KS callsign. Further CQ calls on 80 m CW went unanswered. I moved up to 40 m CW to work VK2IO, ZL1BYZ and ZL2ATH. I was about to move to SSB when another station called – John VK5HAA (ex-VK5FLEA). Once I had worked John, I moved to 40 m SSB and was called by Malcolm VK3OAK/p, now in Illabarook Grassland Flora Reserve VKFF-2335. With no further responses to CQ calls, I moved to 80 m SSB and worked four stations. I went for a walk and worked Ross from outside the AZ.

I returned to the car and we packed up the station. We headed east and headed along Tower Link Road. We had almost reached the next track junction when we were stopped by a large tree across the track. I decided not to attempt clearing the tree due to its size and the way it was laying. I then had to reverse around a kilometre up the road before I found a spot wide enough to undertake a U-turn. On reaching the next track junction, we stopped and discussed our options – turn left and travel down a rough track and work our way around to a possible fourth target summit, or abort that one and head for home. Given that it was almost 1730 local, we decided to head for home. Part of the thinking was that we needed to walk up through the bush once we reached a parking spot, and the warm humid day discouraged an uphill scrub bash…. It can wait for another day, probably on a cooler morning.

We travelled back out to Freestone Creek Road and turned south to travel back to Maffra via Briagalong and Boisdale.

I dropped Ross at his home and then drove home.

It was a profitable day – one new summit activated, plus two new SOTA summits chased and now Complete, and two new Parks chased.

Thanks to Ross for the company and his contacts with me, and also thanks to all who called us during the day.

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Repair of a microphone

Those that have read the blog entry of my New Years Eve trip to The  Horn on Mount Buffalo may recall that the SOTA component was interrupted by static electricity, a relocation to below the peak and then a failed microphone.  At the time, I was not concerned about the microphone fault, rather I was more interested in packing up and descending the hill due to the increasing loudness and frequency of thunder claps! Clearly storm cells were approaching.

Whilst I was away, I used other radios for Park activations. The weather was hot and very dry, with  most days having a Severe or higher rating. In addition, much of northeast Victoria was shrouded in smoke and this made activating very unattractive. The smoke was coming from several sources: there were uncontrolled bushfires across the eastern ranges of NSW and Victoria, including most of the region around Walwa and Corryong and the ranges to the south, in the areas south of Bright, threatening Mount Hotham and Omeo east towards Whitfield including the Abbeyard and Mount Buffalo fires, a fire near The Bluff, and extensive fires in East Gippsland.

I returned to home on 6 January, simply taking the run down the Hume Highway to Melbourne and then working my way around the road system to head east on the Princes Highway back to Morwell. Smoke haze was a feature of the drive and was dominant for the next couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks later, I decided to investigate the microphone fault……

The microphone is an Elecraft MH3 unit for the KX2 and KX3 transceivers. The KX2 was last used on The Horn as mentioned above, when I started to feel static discharges through the transceiver, which was sitting on my thigh, with me sitting on the ground….. I had quickly switched off the radio after disconnecting the coaxial cable from the antenna connector.

I assembled the radio and connected it to a dummy load. The transmit function was fine on CW. The NH3 microphone keyed the radio into transmit, but speaking into the microphone produced no RF output. Disconnecting the MH3 activates the inbuilt microphone and the radio worked fine on SSB. This confirmed my thoughts – a fault in the microphone itself.

I took out the screws on the microphone and separated the two halves. I examined the circuit board and hunted on the internet for a circuit diagram. Gerard VK2IO sent me a copy of MH3 circuit that was no longer on the Elecraft page – he had downloaded it a while ago when he had an issue with his MH3, described on his blog.

Out with the multimeter. I checked voltages with the MH3 plugged into the radio. The voltage across the electret element was only 0.4 V, when it should have been at least 3 V. I disconnected the connector from the element and the voltage at the pcb side of the connector was fine. My suspicions were confirmed – probably a blown FET in the electret element.

I submitted a query to Elecraft support. A response a couple of days later indicated that they did not repair or service the MH3 microphone and that I could purchase a new microphone for US$69 plus postage.

In the interim, I had started hunting through the various boxes that make up my “Junk Box”. I could not find an elecret microphone element, although I was sure that I had some. I needed some other components and so ordered them plus two elements from RS Australia. Once ordered, the invoice indicated nil stock in Australia and they would take a week to arrive….. I was prepared to wait. I could have tried the electronics parts outlet in Traralgon if I was in a hurry, but they charged a significant premium over items carried by a well known supplier for which they are a “stockist”.

Whilst waiting the delivery, I received an email which meant that I would need to travel to Melbourne. I checked the Rockby website to find a suitable electret element on special for only 20 cents! Even with the minimum purchase quantity of 20 units, I placed an order, indicating that I would pick up the order in a couple of days.

After the trip to Melbourne, I revisited the microphone. I took the element out of its mount. Next was to carefully desolder the SMD capacitor which sat across the element terminals and remove the connecting wires. I took a new element and soldered the capacitor in place and then the connecting wires. I then placed the new element in position and checked voltages when connected to the radio. All looked good, so I tried the microphone as it was – just the pcb in place and no back on the microphone – a little fiddly! RF was produced, so I reassembled the microphone.

I again checked the microphone was working correctly – all OK!

The RS ordered elements arrived several days later.

I now have a working MH3 plus many spare elecret elements, now stored in a labelled drawer of a component storage drawer cabinet. I still need to use the microphone on air, but do not anticipate any significant issues.

Apologies – I neglected to take any photos of the disassembled microphone.

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An interesting day at Mount Buffalo National Park

Tuesday 31 December 2019

The news on Tuesday morning included reports of an RFS truck having been flipped by an intense wind event. The crew had been fighting the fire near Jingellic. Tragically, one fire fighter in the truck was killed and two injured. The Jingellic/Walwa fires had increased in size and were forecast to run as winds in the area intensified during the day. During the previous evening I had decided that venturing to the east of Wodonga would be foolhardy.

The weather forecast for Bright looked acceptable. Thunderstorm warnings for the northeast district had been cancelled. The weather forecast looked good for the morning, with the possibility of thunderstorms developing later in the day. I checked the VicEmergency, VicRoads and Parks Victoria websites before deciding to head out to Mount Buffalo. There were no warnings for the area to which I intended to travel. The Fire Danger for the area was “Very High” after a total Fire Ban the day before. I noted that a fire was located at Ovens, listed as small and under control.

When travelling, I usually listen to ABC Local radio and will thus hear reports of any changes in conditions and new or updated warnings.

I assessed as reasonable the conditions and weather forecast for that area. I had noted warnings to avoid venturing into the more remote heavily forested areas. Some might suggest otherwise, but my assessment was that the risks were only low for my planned activities in the area to which I was heading.

I headed off to Myrtleford and then Ovens. The small fire on the southeast side of Ovens was out and a CFA crew was conducting blacking out operations. The fire was between the main road and the Rail Trail. One suspects that it may have been started by someone throwing a live cigarette butt out of a vehicle window, given the location. I continued on to Porepunkah and around to the entrance to the Mount Buffalo National Park. I checked the sign messages at the Park entrance and continued on. The climb was the usual steady winding climb to the Plateau, watching for traffic and passing cyclists only when it was safe to do so.

The Horn VK3/VE-014 1723m 10 points
Mount Buffalo National Park VKFF-0339

I parked in the car park at the end of the road and loaded up the pack for the climb to the top. It was a steady climb up the track and I encountered a young family as we climbed. At the summit, I started setting up the station, strapping a small squid pole to the guard rail at 45 degrees. I then attached the centre of my link dipole to the pole, unwound one half of the dipole and lowered that end over the edge of the granite tor. The two young girls were very interested in what I was doing. I explained what was happening at each stage. I unwound the second half of the dipole enough to extend the squid pole, then strung the dipole out back along the guard rail and tied it off on the guard rail in a corner such that the antenna was just out of reach of other visitors to the summit – there is not a lot of room on top. I then pulled out the battery and radio bag and assembled the rest of the station. The two girls were fascinated, asking “What is that?” pointing at my paddle. The elder sister recognised the microphone…. I chatted with them as I assembled the radio and said that they could hopefully hear someone once I was operating.

I spotted for 7.090 MHz SSB and was soon calling. Several calls yielded no responses. At that point, the wind started to become stronger and a darker cloud was approaching from the NW. I was sitting on the “ground” – the flat top of the tor – with the KX2 sitting on my right leg. I felt a gentle zap, followed by several more. I quickly assessed this as being caused by static electricity. I quickly disconnected the antenna, placing the end of the coax adjacent to the steel pole which supports the viewing compass in the middle of the platform area. The frequency of discharges increased, with the coax connector a very small distance (perhaps a millimetre) from the steel post. I quickly disassembled the radio and battery and started to lift the up the dipole wire hanging over the edge. I then went to wind in the other half of the dipole. As I was packing the gear back into the rucksack, I could the guard rail “singing” with static discharge, with the cloud now above us and the wind speed higher. It was obvious that one should retreat from the summit platform. As I was packing up, Allen VK3ARH called on the mobile, explaining that he was about to head to Mount Warrenheip. I explained the situation at my location and that I would set up again lower down.

I climbed back down the access track to a point near the start of the guard rails on the approach. I assessed this location as still being inside the Activation Zone. The grey cloud had moved away to the east and the wind had dropped. There were no more grey clouds to the west, so I reassembled the station.

I again spotted, this time on 40 m CW, and started calling. After a few calls, I heard Gerard VK2IO call. Gerard did not respond to my two replies and he then came back on air calling Allen VK3ARH on Mount Warrenheip VK3/VC-019. I could not hear Allen, so I decided to move to 20 m CW to try to gain some contacts.

I soon had John ZL1BYZ, Gerard VK2IO, John VK4TJ and Andrei ZL1TM in the log. I moved to 40 m SSB and started calling, but noticed that I was not producing any RF according to the metering on the radio. I did not know the cause. I tried altering the Microphone Gain setting without any effect. Was the fault with the microphone or with the radio? A conundrum to be further investigated when I get home. I then saw a spot for Allen on 80 m CW. I sent an SMS to explain that I did not have much room to string out the 80 m extensions on the antenna and then changed the radio to Allen’s frequency. I could hear Allen, so sent another SMS saying that I would try to make contact using the 40 m antenna. I hit the Tune button after moving off Allen’s frequency, retuned to Allen and called when he finished a CQ call. Allen was soon in the log. Over the several previous minutes low thunder off to the south west had started and was getting a little louder. I had five contacts, so the summit was qualified. I decided that the only option was to pack up and return to the car. With the thunderstorm activity having developed earlier than the forecast predicted, I decided against activating The Horn – the risk profile had changed significantly.

Once back at the car, I stowed the pack and moved the car about 100 m further down the car park to park again, but with the car and the whip antenna clear of the vegetation. My plan was to operate using the mobile station, hoping to make at least five more contacts and thus give me at least 10 contacts for the Park activation and thus qualify the Park for VKFF. Just after I posted a Spot, I heard someone yell out about a fire. I jumped out of the car and started walking towards the person. I also started looking in the App folder on my phone for the Emergency+ app to contact 000. The app activates the GPS in the phone, displays your location and will call 000. I had only recently purchased a new phone, all the apps were grouped together and I had not yet rearranged the apps onto separate screens. Of course, I could not see the app as I was walking the 50 m to where the man was standing. At about 10 m away, I simply said to the man to dial 000. I stood next to him as he made contact, helping with his descriptions of the fire location: my guess was around 500 m to the west, whilst he initially told the operator 200 m away. Once the call was complete, I returned to the car and started heading down the road. I had decided to try calling again from further north within the Park on my way out to Porepunkah.

BuffaloSFire

Smoke from the new fire on the southern flank of Mt Buffalo Plateau

I travelled out along Mount Buffalo Tourist Road, stopping at a couple of places to advise people of the new fire to the south. As I approached the entrance to the Dingo Dell Day Visitor Area, a Forest Fire Management (FFM) vehicle came out from the entrance road. I stopped and waved him out. I continued on to the Park Office, but no one was around. I saw another FFM vehicle near the Buffalo Chalet Road entrance and shortly after three CFA vehicles heading south.

I travelled out to the car park at Mackeys Lookout and stopped. I again spotted myself and was soon working stations. I worked six stations on 40 m SSB, followed by Geoff VK3SQ and John VK2YW on 80 m SSB. They had both called me on 40 m, but could not hear me. Just as I spotted on 80 m, a spot came through indicating I was not being heard in VK4. After calling a few more times on 80 m, I returned to 40 m SSB and worked Scott VK4CZ. Each band changed required me to jump out of the car and to change the tap on the multiband mobile whip, so took a couple of minutes. Several more CQ calls were made without any responses. I stopped calling and announced that I was closing before finally sitting back to eat a late lunch.

As I was having lunch, I heard the phone sound the kookaburra sound. I checked ParksnPeaks to see that Ron VK3AFW was activating Big Hill VK3/VE-087 on 80 m CW. I quickly jumped out to reconfigure the antenna for 80 m and a few minutes later had Ron in the log. I finally finished lunch and rearranged things in the cabin before resuming my trip down the mountain. I saw another CFA truck ascending the mountain road.

The trip down was uneventful, with only a small number of cyclists to negotiate. Almost at the gate, I saw a lone car driving up and shortly after could see the entrance gate, with Road Closed signs across the entrance. I believe that the single car I had seen had driven around the signs, ignoring them.

The trip from Porepunkah back to Wodonga was uneventful. CFA vehicles were still on site at the Ovens fire, perhaps undertaking investigations as to the cause of the fire. I stopped off in Beechworth for a chat and a drink with Geoff VK3SQ as a break in the journey back to base.

It was a very interesting day to say the least. Whilst some may have considered undertaking an activation when there were fires raging elsewhere as unwise, my assessment of the risks was validated by a relatively uneventful day. Yes, the weather changed and I responded accordingly. Apart from the brief period when the cold front passed, the wind was mild for most of the day. Thunderstorms developed earlier than predicted. Even the very small fire started about a kilometre away due to lightning did not change the risks significantly, it simply reinforced the decision that I had already made to abandon a possible activation of The Hump.

I arrived back in Wodonga a little before 1800 local time.

During the afternoon, several other small fires were started by dry lightning in the Victorian Alps. By the time I had arrived back in Wodonga, emergency Alerts were advising people to avoid the Victoria Alps and the upper reaches of the valleys of the King, Ovens and Kiewa Rivers. Fires had started near the Bluff and Howitt Plains. By mid-evening, the warnings were to avoid the entire Apline National Park and nearby areas.

My apologies go to all chasers/hunters for the uncertainties created by circumstances on the day which caused me to not be on air shortly after I had spotted on a few occasions.

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Mount Murray and The Twins

Sunday 29 December 2019

It was to be another hot day in Wodonga, with the temperature predicted to reach the high 30s. I decided to head out to activate a couple of summits on the Great Dividing Range south of Buckland. Once again, temperatures on the hills were forecast to be at least 10 degrees cooler. The approach was straight forward: I headed to Myrtleford, Porepunkah and south to Buckland. Travel south on Buckland River Road, taking care on the very dusty, narrow and winding road. Quite a few vehicles were encountered coming out to the north as I was heading south, many with campervans behind. I suspect many had been listening to warnings from authorities to be out of the bush before the following day, which had already been declared a day of Total Fire Ban across all of Victoria. Hot temperatures and strong winds were expected on Monday.

I finally swung left onto Selwyn Creek Road and then turned onto Mount Murray Logging Road to climb to Twins Jeep Track on the main ridge.

At the junction, I found that Twins Jeep Track to the west was closed. That affected my plans for later in the day….. I mentally noted the closure. Interestingly, the closure was not evident on the VicRoads traffic site or app.

I continued along Twins Jeep Track and then climbed Mount Murray Track to the parking area just before the locked gate.

Mount Murray VK3/VE-025 1640 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619

There are three knolls within the Activation Zone for this summit: a small one (1628 m) to the east of the parking area, one immediately west, over which the MVO Wongungurra Track climbs on its way to the third knoll to the south west, which has a small rock cairn and is the true summit. All three knolls and the saddles between are encompassed by the 1620 m contour.

I set up my station close to the locked gate, where I could sit in a little shade provided by a snow gum.

I spotted myself and started called early on the UTC day on 40 m CW. The next 11 minutes yielded six contacts. Next was Andrew VK3ARR on Mount Warrenheip VK3/VC-019 in VKFF-2402. I had noted that Andrew had spotted, as had Soren ZL1SKL. After working Andrew, I had two more chasers on CW. I then moved to 20 m SSB to see if Soren was still on his newest spot frequency, posted several minutes earlier. After listening for a couple of minutes, I called to see if he was simply listening….. Success – Soren came straight back to the call and was in the log: S2S to ZL1/WK-134.

I moved down to 20 m CW and soon had John ZL1BYZ and Andrei ZL1TM in the log, but no other callers. I then moved to 40 m SSB for two contacts and finally to 80 m SSB for a further two contacts. I then shut down and packed up.

Whilst packing up, I considered my options. A couple were walking back from the true summit and asked what I was doing. I explained both SOTA and WWFF and pointed out some of the nearby SOTA summits. I took the chance to look at the new summit VK3/VE-245 about 3.7 km away.

The approach to VK3/VE-245 would normally involve a scrub bash of about 700 m along a ridge line and over a knoll from Twins Jeep Track. With the Twins Jeep Track closed to vehicles, an additional two kilometre walk plus 140 m vertical climb would be required from the road closure sign. The day was feeling hot (about 24 C, but with blazing sun and not much breeze), so I decided against my original plan of activating the new summit and then possibly VK3/VE-066 and perhaps Mount Selwyn VK3/VE-049. Whilst I could still activate the latter two summits, it would require driving back down to Selwyn Creek Road and then climbing back up to the ridge line. Instead, I decided to head east towards Mount Hotham.

Twins Jeep Track required the usual slow and steady approach, with some very rough sections and a narrow track for most of the distance. I headed on to a parking spot and decided to climb The Twins.

The Twins VK3/VE-017 1702 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619

The climb is steep but straight forward. I set up using the signpost to support the squidpole. I spotted and started on 40 m SSB, working Peter VK3ZPF almost immediately after I started, followed by Andrew VK3ARR on Mount Buninyong VK3/VC-018. I worked another four stations before moving to 40 m CW to work five stations. I then shut down, packed up and descended to the car.

I considered the climb to VK3/VE-023 just to the south of the saddle, but decided against another climb in the heat.

I continued out to the Great Alpine Road and then took Sugarloaf Track over Mount Sugarloaf and around to Gunns Track. Sugarloaf Track was very rough in places. At the obvious corner, I took the track marked “helipad” and on to the summit.

VK3/VE-030 (unnamed) 1570 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619

Provided you set up the station on the eastern side of the access track, this summit is inside the Alpine National Park. I lashed a squid pole to one of the snow gums on the eastern side and was soon up and running.

I spotted and called on 40 m CW, and soon had a mini pile up with two stations calling. I quickly decipher one call – John VK4TJ and then listened for the other call. My brain eventually decoded it – Gary ZL2IFB. I worked Gary first and then John. Next was Andrei ZL1TM and then an unusual call being sent a little quick for my brain – somewhat tired after all the 4WD driving plus operating on the earlier summits. I eventually deciphered the call. It was Dave VK2WQ/QRP. I worked another two stations before moving to 20 m CW for three more contacts. A couple of SMS messages came in, so I moved to 80 m CW to work Allen VK3ARH and then to SSB for Geoff VK3SQ. It was after 1600 local and I still had a long drive out, so I closed down and packed up.

I headed back to Gunns track and then down Gunns Creek Track. About 3.5 km down, I came across a large tree across the road, with a steep 3 m embankment on the left. I could fit the bonnet under the tree but not the rest of the vehicle. The tree was too large to attempt to clear with my small chainsaw. I backed up the hill until I could find a spot wide enough to complete a multi-point U turn and returned to Gunns Track. I followed this, but soon encountered another tree down across the track. I retreated back to the junction with Paddy Hill Track and followed it northwest and then took Link Track and Albion Track, passing just below the summit of Albion Point VK3/VE-080. I eventually worked my way out to the junction with Mongrel Creek Track, Cemetery Lane and Wet Gully Track. I decided to head down Cemetery Lane towards Harrietville and the Great Alpine Road, as this was the shortest route out of the bush.

Once back on the bitumen, the route was simple, apart from holiday traffic, especially in Bright.

I arrived back in Wodonga by about 1915.

Monday was a declared Total Fire Ban day, so it was a day to stay at home base, to catch up with writing the blog and other tasks in the cool. Planning for following days would be on the list, but final decisions would need to wait until after the outcomes of fire behaviour following the wind changes later on the Monday. Many options were already ruled out due to road closures. The Great Alpine Road was still closed south of Ensay. On the Sunday evening and Monday morning, authorities were encouraging all campers in East Gippsland to pack up and head for home, or at least to one of the major towns. A new fire had started at Wingan River, closing the Princes Highway between Cann River and Genoa. The Bonang Highway was closed, with residents in Goongerah and other settlements in that region being urged to evacuate. Two fires near Jingellic and Walwa were at “Watch and Act” level. With the coming hot weather and strong winds with a dry cold front, things were looking potentially nasty for Monday afternoon and overnight.

Conditions in the northeast of Victoria were not as severe, but lightning strikes would be a possibility, so new fires might start. I would make my decisions on each morning in coming days.

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Two summits north of Lockhart Gap

Saturday 28 December 2019

Another hot day was forecast for Wodonga. I decided to head out to Lockhart Gap to activate some easy summits. Before departing Wodonga, I alerted for VK3/VE-241, a six point summit on McGrath Track, which runs of Eskdale Spur Road. The trip to Lockhart Gap was uneventful.

My plan was upset – I found a Road Closed sign at the start of Eskdale Spur Road. I was aware that there were going bushfires further south, and had noted Road Closures posted in the area of the fires. I was not really surprised at the closure, so I swung north onto Powerline Road and then Lockharts Gap Track for about 4 km to reach the first summit for the day.

VK3/VE-159 (unnamed) 892 m 4 points

At the high point in the track, there is a cleared area adjacent to the track allowing one to park off the track. I quickly set up with a line over a tree branch to haul up the ZS6BKW. I set up the folding camp chair away from the car and simply sat in the chair with the KX2 on my lap. Logging was done with my smart phone and the VK3ZPF Portalog app.

I was on air by 2320 and soon had the summit qualified on 40 m CW, with four contacts in less than 10 minutes. I was soon listening on 20 m voice for a couple of SOTA stations in ZL. I could hear them, but they could not hear me with the 10 W from the KX2. I moved to the car and pulled out the IC-7300. I soon had it unpacked and connected to an 18 Ah LiFePO4 battery. With 50 W, I was able to make contact and soon had Soren ZL1SKL and Sam ZL/VK2GPL on ZL1/WK-158 in the log.

I turned off the IC-7300 and reconnected the KX2 and returned to 40 m CW to work Allen VK3ARH/p on Mount Gisborne VK3/VC-039. I moved up from Allen, posted a Spot and started calling again and soon had Garry VK2GAZ in the log.

I moved up to 20 m CW and worked John ZL1BYZ and was called by Ron VK3AFW shortly before UTC rollover. But we could not complete the contact before UTC midnight, so Ron is in the log at 0000 UTC and missed a chance for a second contact on the new UTC day. Next in the log was Andrei ZL1TM.

I then moved to 40 m SSB, as Ian VK1DI/2 had spotted. I waited for my chance to call and soon had Ian on The Cascades VK2/SM-014 and Kosciusko National Park VKFF-0269 in the log.

I moved down to 40 m CW and worked five stations. Next was 40 m SSB for another four stations, followed by a call on CW on the SSB frequency. I simply picked up the key and worked Steve VK7CW with the rig still set on SSB – a handy feature on the KX2. With no further callers, I shut down and packed up the station and returned to Powerline Road.

The road takes a sweeping turn to the left about 4 km further on –heading back in almost the same direction as it starts to drop down a side spur. This is the spot to park for the walk of about 450 m to the next summit. I parked about 30 m past the bend and loaded up for the approach to the summit.

VK3/VE-242 (unnamed) 842 m 4 points

There are patches of scrub to negotiate or skirt around as you approach the summit, with around 50 m vertical climb.

I set up the station, this time sitting on the ground. I was on air calling a little over an hour after closing on the previous summit. I started on 40 m CW and had six contacts in the log in around 12 minutes. With no further callers, I moved up to 40 m SSB and worked another six stations. I then moved up to 20 m CW and worked John ZL1BYZ and Andrei ZL1TM before closing. I then packed up and retraced my route back to the car and to Lockhart Gap and returned to Wodonga – the day was getting warm!

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A new summit above Dandongadale

Friday 27 December 2019

The weather in Wodonga was forecast to be similar to the day before, only hotter. After assessing the various reports, I decided to again head for the hills.

I travelled to Myrtleford and then to Lake Buffalo and south towards Dandongadale. About 2.7 km south of the junction with Buffalo Whitfield Road is the junction with Black Range Track. I followed this to the junction with Ducati Track and climbed to the first target for the day.

VK3/VE-263 (unnamed) 745 m 4 points Not previously activated

The access route had plenty of steep and deep spoon drains plus several steep sections. The track surface was good for most of the route. My vehicle – a Ranger with 50 mm lift – did scrape the top of a couple of the spoon drains.

I arrived at the summit shortly before UTC rollover and was set up, spotted and calling shortly after the hour. First in the log was Warren VK3BYD. Rik VK3EQ could not hear me. I soon had four in the log, though the contact with Compton VK2HRX was difficult – Compton was an easy copy for me, but I was low to him.

I then moved to 40 m CW and worked six stations in 10 minutes. I moved to 20 m CW and worked three ZL stations. Next was 20 m SSB, with two stations worked.

VE-263_station

The station on VK3/VE-263

During the activation I had been occasionally checked on Glenn VK3YY/p on Mount Tassie VK3/VT-046. I never heard him at a workable level. Glenn sent me a text message that I was not workable on 20 m SSB. I rang Glenn and suggested we try 40 m CW. I quickly changed frequency and hit the Tune button. Shortly after, I could hear myself coming back through the phone as Glenn moved to the frequency. I soon hung up and then worked Glenn for a Summit to Summit. Thanks Glenn.

I packed up and checked the RoofTop Map. I had considered driving out along Ducati Track, but the track was shown as ending short of the main road, probably at the edge of the plantation. Therefore I decided to retrace my access route to exit. I packed up and returned to Lake Buffalo Road and back to Myrtleford to grab some lunch.

I then considered my options. I decided on the simplest one: Mount Stanley was the logical choice.

Mount Stanley VK3/VE-126 1052 m 6 points

After an uneventful drive, I arrived at the summit. I set up out of the way so as to not annoy the fire watch person.

I spotted myself on 40 m CW and was soon working stations. Ten minutes of operating yielded six stations. I then moved to 40 m SSB, working another three stations. 20 m CW yielded only Andrei ZL1TM. I returned to 40 m SSB for one final station, thus qualifying the summit on both SSB and CW.

I then packed up and headed back to Wodonga.

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