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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A ridgeline run near Bright

Thursday 26 December 2019

Boxing Day was looking to be very warm in Wodonga. I decided to head out to gain a little altitude and the associated cooler air.

I drove to Bright and headed up to the first target summit for the day. Along the way I was listening to 7.032 MHz CW and heard a CQ call. I pulled over, turned off the car and soon had Allen VK3ARH/p on Mount Noorat VK3/VS-054 in the log.

Mount Porepunkah VK3/VE-098 1185 m 6 points

The approach to this summit is straight forward. I did need to dodge a couple of mountain bike riders descending from the summit, plus a group of three encountered at a key intersection. I arrived at the summit to see the fire watcher midway up his climb up the lookout tower ladder. After a wave, I found a spot slightly down the track where I would have some shade and parked. I soon had the station set up on the edge of the road.

I spotted myself shortly after UTC rollover on 40 m CW and soon had a series of callers: Nick VK3ANL, Tony VK3CAT, John VK2YW, Gerard VK2IO/m, Ian VK5CZ, John VK4TJ and Warren VK3BYD.

I then moved to 40 m SSB and worked Nick VK3ANL, David VK3IL/p, Mark VK7ME, Rik VK3EQ and Shane VK2LUV.

My final contacts were made on 20 m CW, working Andrei ZL1TM and John ZL1BYZ. With no further callers, I closed the station and packed up.

I drove back down Mount Porepunkah Road to the junction with Smart Creek Track and Smart Creek Tawonga Gap Track and headed up Smart Creek Tawonga Gap Track. This track has some rougher and also steep sections – 4WD recommended.

VK3/VE-097 (unnamed) 1185 m 6 points

There is a small concrete trig marked about 50 cm high at this summit. There is plenty of room to park off the main track. I was soon set up and on air, less than an hour after the last contact on the previous summit.

I spotted myself and was soon working chasers on 20 m CW: Andrei ZL1TM and John VK4TJ, but had no more callers. I dropped down to 40 m CW to work Nick VK3ANL and Gerard VK2IO/m. I then moved to 40 m SSB and worked nine stations. I then waited to work Matt VK1MA/3 and Peter VK3ZPF/p, both on Arthurs Seat VK3/VC-031 and in Arthurs Seat State Park VKFF-0750. Matt was busy chatting on 2 m FM, so I kept calling on 40 m with few responses. I eventually worked Matt and then waited for Peter to arrive so that he could bag a Summit to Summit.

I packed up and starting moving on to the next summit. There were a few bumpy sections and some small branches to dodge.

VK3/VE-104 (unnamed) 1157 m 6 points

I set up again, and was on air about an hour after the last contact on the previous summit. I started on 40 m SSB and soon had six in the log, including Matt VK1MA/3 and Peter VK3ZPF/p, both still on Arthurs Seat VK3/VC-031. I moved to 40 m CW to work Ian VK5CZ and Andrei ZL1TM. After moving to 20 m CW, I worked another five stations.

With no further callers, I shut down and packed up and drove out to Tawonga Gap and the bitumen. I descended down towards Mount Beauty and then headed back to Wodonga.

There was smoke in the air all day from the fires in the region, but it was a little less dense up on the hill tops. The temperatures were definitely higher down in the valleys – thank goodness that the air conditioner in the car was working well.

Thank you to all the chasers.

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A new paddle with no moving parts

I have had a KX2 transceiver for some time now and it has become my “go to” SOTA radio. It came with an Elecraft Precision Keyer Paddle KXPD2. I quickly became familiar with the paddle, but occasionally had problems with it. I am still not sure with one of the issues relating to intermittent paddle operation – perhaps I was getting some grit which interfered with the mechanical operation.

I had previously used a capacitive touch paddle with my FT-817. I had purchased a kit, assembled it and mounted it in a plastic case. It worked fine until I was on a summit one day and it started drizzling…… Operation became very odd very quickly with moisture about in the air, even if not on the paddle. I reverted to a mechanical paddle with the FT-817.

Another problem that I had with the Elecraft unit was the mounting screws became loose, resulting in contact posts moving and thus the paddle became unusable. The first time this occurred, I disassembled the paddle once I was at home and re-tightened the screws. But the problem recurred. I then used a small amount of Loctite on the two screws and reassembled the unit. All has been fine since, apart from the occasional intermittent contact issue.

I had read the article in the February 2019 issue of QST magazine on a paddle based on pressure sensors with interest. I took no action at the time, but was very interested when I saw an article on a variant developed by David VK3IL – see David’s blog.

After reading David’s blog, I made contact inquiring if he had a spare pcb left, knowing that even a prototype board order usually results in the buyer receiving several boards.  A few days later, a parcel arrived in the post – a pcb plus a kit of the required parts. Many thanks David! Others should note that David DOES NOT provide or sell kits. I was simply lucky that he was willing to share a kit with me from the extra items that he had on hand due to minimum order quantities with many suppliers.

I soon had the paddle assembled and tried it out. Success – it worked first time, despite my sloppy effort in soldering the tiny SMD diodes to the board. I then needed to consider how to mount the pcb assembly so that it was usable. I had seen David’s blog photos, with a layer of heatshrink tubing over the assembly, but that did not feel “right” in my hand.

I had a thought and tried something out. The thought worked with the first attempt, but the assembly could be a little longer to better sit in my hand. So after using my first attempt on a few summits, I cut away the material and started a new variation.

Material

The assembled pressure sensitive paddle, including a suitable length of audio cable with a 3.5 mm stereo plug. (I cut a short length from a purchased stereo – stereo lead that was to hand).
2 pieces of “closed cell foam” cut from a cheap hiking sleeping mat.
A  short length of heat shrink tubing.

Assembly

Simply cut the foam to the required size. The size will partly depend on the size of your hand.
Place one piece of foam on each side of the pcb assembly, then slip the heatshrink over the “sandwich”. Use a hot air gun to shrink the tubing onto the sandwich. Done. You should get the idea from the image below. The sandwich area is about the width of my palm.

Use

Simply plug the paddle into the paddle jack on the KX2. When I want to send, I pick up the paddle with my left hand, brace that hand against a table or my body and “squeeze” using my right hand. Works flawlessly to date, apart from the operator errors!

I am still a little slow with CW, operating at around 10-12 wpm.

Thanks for a great bit of kit David!

I works so well that I removed the Elecraft paddle from the radio. Now I really should devise a method of covering the case opening where the paddle connected to the radio.

KX2_Paddle

The pressure sensor based paddle and the KX2

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Two new summits near Shelley

24 December 2019

I had spent Monday doing family tasks, plus writing up the previous day’s activity for the blog. There was plenty of smoke haze around from the various bushfires, but on Tuesday morning I decided to head out to attempt two more of the new summits added at the start of November. I posted Alerts and was away from Wodonga before 0900 AEDT.

Both summits to be targeted require access through HVP Plantation land and roads. I had included the Koetong Plantation in my permit application, so access should be all above board for me as the application was approved.

I drove to Koetong and then took Burrowye Road to head north and then NE to the top of the ridge line. I then turned left into Hempenstall Road until a short distance after the junction with Marslen Road, turning into Hempenstall Fire Break. The summit is only about 500 m up the track.

VK3/VE-262 (unnamed) 800 m 4 points Not yet activated

I had checked the satellite imagery for this summit. There is a large turnaround around just west of the track junction at the top of the hill. The posted summit location is very close to the junction and the top of the hill is quite flat. I decided to set up on the edge of the south side of the turnaround, where there was a spot with shade from the pine trees. The is a large solid-looking post at the junction with the road names which looked suitable to support a squid pole, but it was in full sun and was thus not used.

I parked, donned a P2 face mask and started setting up the station, using a fishing rod holder hammered into the ground to support a squid pole. I attached the ZS6BKW to the pole and set up the station on my folding camp chair.

VE-262antenna

The uninspiring site at the summit of VK3/VE-262

I was on air a few minutes after 2300 UTC (Monday 23 December) and started calling on 40 m CW. I soon had my first caller – Steve VK7CW. Steve was kind enough to spot me. Next was Tony VK3CAT, followed by Gerard VK2IO. Next was Tony again, using VK3APC, followed by Warren VK3BYD. The summit was already qualified.

I moved to 20 m CW and started calling. I worked John ZL1BYZ, Andrei ZL1TM, John VK4TJ, Ian VK5CZ, Allen VK3ARH and Wynne ZL2ATH.

I moved to 40 m SSB and removed the mask. Here I worked Allen VK3HRA, Col VK3GTV and Tony VK3CAT. But I had no further callers. After calling for several minutes, I went looking around the band and found the Australian 40 m Net on 7.097. The net was about to close, but I checked in and worked Ron VK3AHR for my fourth SSB contact. I logged out of the net and closed the station and commenced the pack up after donning the face mask.

I loaded up the car and retraced my route back to the junction with Burrowye Road, but decided to follow Hempenstall Road out to the Murray Valley Highway. I then headed east to Shelley – Walwa Road and headed towards Walwa. I drove along the road to Gadds Road and took it in towards the summit passing a loaded log truck parked basically in the middle of the track along the way. I worked my way around to the summit and skirted around the southern flank.

I had spotted a track around the pine plantation starting on the north-eastern side of the pines. I found the track, engaged 4WD, carefully drove around the track to the high point on a ridge to the east of the summit and found a spot to park.

Ben Lomond VK3/VE-259 881 m 4 points Not yet activated

I loaded up the rucksack and started the climb up the hill, veering to the right as the scrub was notably thinner on the north side of a shallow gully. The climb was about 450 m horizontal with about 100 climb to the summit proper. I stopped climbing a little short of the summit, but well inside the AZ – the day was warming up and I saw little point in climbing all the way to the top in the heat – already over 30 C, plus the smoke haze.

I had zero phone coverage. I found a spot to set up and was soon calling on 40 m CW. I was spotted by the VK4CT RBNHole at 0114 UTC. Over the next 10 minutes I worked Gerard VK2IO, John VK4TJ and Scott VK4CZ. Further CQ calls yielded no results, so I moved to 20 m CW. John VK4TJ spotted me after I moved to 20 and I soon had John ZL1BYZ and Andrei ZL1TM in the log. At least the summit was qualified. I moved down to 40 m SSB and called for a few minutes without any responses, so decided to pack up and return to the car.

The descent was quicker, not having to work against gravity…..

I loaded the gear in the car, retraced my route back around to Ben Lomond Road and followed that road out to the north to reach the Shelley – Walwa Road. I drove back towards Shelley to the road junction with J5 Track & Old Walwa Road. I then travelled down Old Walwa Road to close to the WP (water point) sign on the east of the dam located inside the Reserve and found a spot to park in the shade of a large gum tree.

Pheasant Creek Flora Reserve VKFF-2422

I had activated this Reserve previously, but only achieved 26 contacts. From previous experience, I knew that phone coverage in the Reserve was poor to non-existent, so added a comment to “Please Spot” to the Alert.

PheasantCkFRs

Operating site at Pheasant Creek Flora Reserve

I set up with the ZS6BKW and the IC-7300, with the radio set to 30 W. Just as I was about to call, Shaun VK3KK/p came up on 7.144 MHz. I answer Shaun’s CQ call to make my first contact. I moved down to 7.135 MHz and started calling using the Voice Keyer function to repeatedly call CQ. I soon had Glen VK3GMC in the log. Further repeated calls went unanswered.

I moved to 80 m and called, making a couple of contacts. We then moved up to 40 m and worked again. Finally, we tried 20 m SSB and managed a weak contact both ways – thanks Ross. I moved back to 40 m and made many calls on 7.144 but only managed one caller – Grant VK3HP. I called repeatedly with no responses. I eventually gave up and moved up to 20 m CW and was spotted once again by the VK4CT RBNHole. Helpful, but of course it put me at Ben Lomond…. I soon worked John ZL1BYZ and Gary ZL2IFB. I finally had 10 contacts in the log. Further CQ calls went unanswered.

I later found that Gary had spotted me correctly as being in the Reserve, with Spots either side from the RBNHole. Later, I found that the ParksnPeaks History did not show the Spot from Gary.

I moved down to 40 m CW and was again spotted by the VK4CT RBNHole, again as at Ben Lomond. But I had no callers. I gave up, packed up and started the journey back to Wodonga. I will need to again revisit this Park to build the tally to the WWFF qualification quota.

Overall, it was a productive day, with two new summits and a valid VKFF activation.

Thanks to all who worked me during the day.

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The trip to Wodonga for Christmas 2019

22 December 2019

With family based in northeast Victoria, it has become usual for me to travel to stay with Mum in Wodonga for the Christmas – New Year period. I few things combined to prevent me travelling up in mid-December as I have done for the last couple of years. With weather conditions and fire activity in the hill country, I left my departure until the Sunday prior to Christmas Day.

On the Saturday morning, I noted that the Great Alpine Road had been closed: a dry cold front had passed across Victoria on Friday night and the strong gusty winds had impacted the fires in East Gippsland. The fires were in steep terrain and had been creating their own local weather. With strong northerly winds in previous days, the change to a south-westerly pattern caused the fires to change direction, placing the Great Alpine Road passing through the narrow, steep-sided Tambo River valley between Bruthen and Ensay under direct threat. I had been watching the VicEmergency website for most of the previous week, maintaining an awareness of the situation in the area. Fires had been burning north of Bruthen and towards Buchan for several weeks. This road closure settled the question: my first route option was eliminated.

I considered my other route options. I wanted to be able to activate either Parks or SOTA as a break during the trip, as is my usual practice.

Options included travelling to Licola and then to Jamieson via the Jamieson-Licola Road, which would give me the option of activating Mt Shillinglaw and Mt Skene. The Jamieson-Licola Road is closed from near Connors Plain through to the Mt Sunday Road junction from early June through to the end of October. The only way to legally travel the road in the closure period is on an approved 4WD Club trip with an appropriate permit. I seriously considered this option, but as the song lyrics say, it is “a long and winding road”. Plus the route is relatively rarely travelled, so I ruled out this option – I did not want to be in a remote region with the country so dry.

I made the final decision late on Saturday afternoon. There were no Total Fire Bans in place in Victoria, removing one consideration. Warren VK3BYD had posted an Alert for Mt Nelse VK3/VE-004 at 0100 UTC Sunday. This gave me target – aim to be on a summit by 0100.

I was a little slower getting organised on Sunday morning than expected. I was on the road before 0900, but needed to stop for fuel. I headed towards Warragul and then cut across the hills to Healesville, towards Yarra Glen and on to Yea.

Warren rang me as I was driving through Healesville – he had arrived on his summit early. I advised him of my ETA at my first target. We were discussing options when I lost coverage and the call dropped out. Warren would set up and activate. He would assess the situation when he had the summit qualified and had worked the bands he wished to use.

I travelled on to Yarck, onto Yarck Road and then Terip Road. I would my way up to Caveat Road and then south to Black Range Road.

VK3/VN-032 Black Range 680 m 2 points Not yet activated

This summit was one of the replacement summits added on 1 November 2019, replacing Mt Concord further south along the range.

The summit is located on private property. Black Range Road crosses a knoll enclosed by a 660 m contour just to the west of the summit. Careful examination of the topographic maps plus analysis by using the flooding technique on Google Earth showed that the saddle between the knoll and the summit remains inside the Activation Zone (AZ), so I decided that the knoll was probably a valid site. Once on site, I quickly assessed the saddle depth and concluded the original analysis was valid.

Next I sent an SMS to Warren that I had arrived and was setting up. Whilst I was getting the antenna up, Warren replied, saying to call him on 7.032 MHz when ready and that he would then move to a different frequency.

I set up and found Warren making a contact. When it was completed, I sent my callsign. Warren was soon in the log, with signals fading towards the end. So my first contact from the new summit was a Summit to Summit. Thanks for waiting Warren!

After logging the contact, I sent “QRL?” and started calling. I soon had Ian VK5CZ, Gerard VK2IO, Tony VK3CAT and VK3APC, John VK4TJ and Garry VK2GAZ in the log. I was about to move to SSB when I had a call from John VK5FLEA. After working John, I sent “?” a couple of times and then moved to SSB. The first contact was again John VK5FLEA. Next was Bill VK1MCW who had just returned home and had thus missed me on CW. I spent several minutes calling, but had no further callers. I tried 80 m SSB with no callers.

I shut down and packed up. I returned to Yarck to purchase some lunch at the Bakery.

I travelled to Merton and onto Merton-Strathbogie Range to climb into the Strathbogie Range and on to Boho South. I took Chapmans Road north to D Road, where I encountered one of the “STOP Private Plantation” signs.

Much of the old pine plantation in Victoria has been leased by HVP Plantations – another example of privatising of former government assets in Victoria. After my trips in early November, I explored the HVP Plantations web site. After an initial read of the relevant pages, I left the website. A couple of weeks later, I returned to the website to re-read the material. I then completed the online form for their Visitor Induction and submitted the form, and then completed an application for a community access permit. I cited my reason for access as “hiking”, given that the final approach to a SOTA summit activation site must be by non-motorised means. I submitted the application. Within a couple of hours, I received an email indicating that the application had been approved. With the application approved, I could now legally enter the plantation, as it was one of those listed in my application.

I travelled along D Road to D4 Road and then took the first main track to the right. This lead me to a short steep rocky section, but I had noted another small track to the right just before the rocky step. I reversed and followed the smaller track and was soon at the start of a rocky climb to the summit. Although other 4WD vehicles had obviously climbed to the summit, I found a spot to park and loaded up the pack.

Mount Separation VK3/VE-198 734 m 4 points Not yet activated

I climbed to the bent pole which is all that remains of the trig. I took some photos and then hunted out spot in the shade.

ViewToWombat

Looking across to Mt Wombat (L of centre) from Mt Separation

The sun was hot and there was no cloud cover. I found a spot with some shade and set up the station. I spotted myself for 40 m CW and soon had four stations in the log: VK2IO, VK4TJ, VK3ARH and VK5FLEA. With no further callers, I moved to 40 m SSB and only worked VK1XP, VK7QP and VK2CDS. I moved up to 20 m CW and worked ZL1TM, ZL1BYZ and ZL1IFB. I decided to pack up and move to the next summit.

I returned to the car, drove back out to D Road and around to the junction with D1 Road. D1 Road was shown on my maps as A10 Road, so initially caused a slight confusion. I was sure I was at the right place, so drove south to a cross road just before D1 Road drops steeply off the summit.

Here I took the track on the right and slowly navigated around the rocks to a high point where a track led hard left to climb onto one of the summit knolls. I parked here and grabbed the gear to climb onto the knoll.

VK3/VE-190 Mount Buggaree 766 m 4 points Not yet activated

The 1:25000 mapping shows the summit as being on the northern most of four knolls. All four knolls are above the 750 m contour and thus inside the AZ.

I found a shady spot close to top of the second knoll from the southern end. I spotted myself and was soon set up. I started on 40 m CW, working VK2IO, VK4TJ and ZL1TM. With no further callers, I moved to 40 m SSB and worked three stations: VK7QP, VK3ECH and VK3ZK. I then moved to 20 m SSB to work ZL1TM, ZL1BYZ and VK2GAZ. With no further callers, I decided to close and to attempt to access the next target.

I drove back out to D1 Road, north to D Road and worked my way around to Mt Lindsay Track, which has a Seasonal Closure gate which was open. I made my way up the recently resurfaced dusty track, negotiating several large spoon drains. 4WD recommended, especially after rain. I was soon parked just below the summit itself.

Mount Lindsay VK3/VE-206 699 m 2 points Not yet activated

I believe that this summit has an incorrect height. Just south of the summit, the maps show a spot height of 699 m, possibly the basis of the allocated height with SOTA. However, the official topographic maps show that the summit is surrounded by a 700 m contour. So I believe that the height needs to increase to at least 700 m and the points increased to 4.

There is a cleared area on the southeast side of the track just below the summit proper. I simply tossed a line over tree branch and set up away from the car, only about 2 m vertical below the summit. The scrub was dry and the ground dusty.

MtLindsaySummit

Looking across to the summit of VK3/VE-206 from the operating site

I was soon calling on 40 m CW and worked VK3CAT, VK4TJ, VK2IO/m, ZL1BYZ and VK3ANL. A second station was also calling as I was working Tony VK3CAT – I suspect that it was Andrei ZL1TM and I called him once finishing working Tony, but there was no reply. My suspicions were confirmed the following day, when I checked the SOTA database – Andrei had logged a contact, even though he was not in my log. Sorry for the mix up Andrei.

I moved up to 40 m SSB and worked VK3ANL, Zl2IFB, VK5WG and VK3PWG. Nick VK3ANL noted that when he first called, his radio was connected to his 6 m vertical antenna. He then swapped to his main HF antenna, which explained why his CW signal jumped from 559 to 599…. On SSB, Nick was 59+20.

Time was getting on – my last contact was logged at 0637 UTC. I packed up and returned to the car and retraced my access route to B1 Road and then worked my way out to the northeast, reaching Jenson Road, Ethell Road, Lima Road and on to the Midland Highway. I travelled north towards Benalla and then onto the Hume Highway for the trip to Wodonga.

During the day, propagation was highly variable. Before the final summit, I worked no Melbourne stations on 40 m SSB or on 80 m SSB. There was often strong QSB.

NB: I noticed that I spotted with the incorrect reference. I spotted with VK3/VE-209, but the correct reference is VK3/VE-206. I have tried to contact all that I worked, plus posted messages to the OZSOTA group and to the SOTA Reflector.

Thanks to all who chased me.

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Two new summits near Melbourne

I needed to head to Melbourne to pick up an item. After the trip in the morning down towards Moorabbin, I made my way towards Bayswater. I joined some regulars who meet at a Club venue in a nearby area each week for lunch – I rarely make it to the gatherings, but they are always good fun.

After lunch, I made my way out to Yarra Glen and then north on the Melba Highway before heading east on the Healesville – Kinglake Road towards Toolangi.

I then headed north on Spraggs Road, then east on Nolans Road. This is an area of past and present logging activity, so one needs to stay on top of navigation! I swung north on Starlight Flats Road, which had a few slightly rougher sections, but would be navigable with care in a 2WD. Next it was right into Klondyke Road and then a hard left into Mt Klondyke Road. This runs into Chevys Track at a T intersection but on the road it looks as if Mt Klondyke Road simply swings to the right. Climb up to a cross road and swing right into Aeroplane Track. There was an open gate on the desired route south. The road quickly became rougher and rockier, with a couple of spoon drains. I managed to climb in 2WD, but some 2WD vehicle drivers might wish to park near the intersection and walk up the hill. The walk would be about 330 m with a climb of about 30 m vertical.

(An alternate approach would be to turn off Nolans Road into Starlight Road, then swing right onto Blowhard Road. Then a hard left onto Klondyke Road and then onto Mt Klondyke Road.)

Mount Klondyke VK3/VN-031 870 m 4 points Not previously activated

This summit has a large activation zone. I stopped at a rocky clearing at the top of the climb from the intersection to the north of the summit. I parked off the track and soon had a line over a tree branch to haul up the ZS6BKW antenna and had the station operational away from the vehicle. The areas around the summit have been logged in the past: 2000, 2007, 2010 and 2017 near the intersection. The area is therefore in various stages of regeneration and affords some views to the north and east.

Klondyke_Panorama1s

The view from close to the operating site, from North at the left around to just south of East

I set up the ZS6BKW with a line over a tree branch and then set up the station in a little shade. I spotted and started calling on 40 m CW and was soon called by two stations at the same time. That was soon sorted out and I had Andrei ZL1TM, Gerard VK2IO/m and John VK4TJ in the log. After no responses to further calls, I moved up to 40 m SSB to work Ray VK4NH/2 and VK4DXA/2. I had no further callers, but I had not spotted myself. I decided to move up to 20 m to see if I could hear Nick VK3ANL/4 who was in a Park. Nothing was heard, so I moved to 20 m CW. This moved yielded four ZL stations: Andrei ZL1TM, John ZL1BYZ, Wynne ZL2ATH and Geoff ZL3GA. I then tried 20 m SSB without any responses to calls. I next moved to 80 m SSB and worked Duncan VK3XBC and Rik VK3EQ. With no further calls, I shut down and packed up.

I exited via Mt Klondyke Road and swung left when I reached to Klondyke Road and continued around to Blowhard Road to again swing left, then continued on until I reached Sylvia Creek Road. Here I swung right and followed the road down to Myers Creek Road, where I swung south.

I turned left into Monda Road and climbed up past the start of the road the Mount St Leonard. I continued on, past the Horseyard. The road surface deteriorates beyond here, with sections of chunky rock repairs filling soft sections. The surface briefly improves a little before a Y intersection. The left branch looks a little rough at the start but is the correct option. The right branch becomes a little rough and travels to the south of the target summit. At the far end, I swung hard left and climbed slowly up the cut up tracks to the summit area to park.

Archer Lookout VK3/VC-038 943 m 6 points
Yarra Ranges National Park VKFF-0556

MapshareVic shows that the informal camp area and the junction of Nursery Spur Road and Monda Road as being just inside the National Park boundary, so you can activate for both SOTA and VKFF as long as you are careful with your site selection….. I set up on the southern edge of Monda Road and was thus safely inside the Park boundary.

ArcherLookoutCampsite

The informal campsite at the road junction

Due to the forest growth, there is not much of a view except to the west along the cleared road alignment towards Mount St Leonards, which is obscured by the trees.

ArcherLoookoutWestView

Looking west along Monda Road

I again set up with the ZS6BKW hauled up with a line over a tree branch. The station was assembled on the ground in an area with short grass.

I spotted and called on 80 m SSB, working Rik VK3EQ, Tony VK3CAT, Tony VK3APC, and Marc VK3OHM. With no further callers, I moved to 80 m CW and worked Tony VK3CAT and VK3APC. I next moved up to 40 m CW to work Andrei ZL1TM and John VK4TJ, but had no further callers. I then moved to 40 m SSB and worked Nev VK5WG, who noted strong and deep QSB. Next was Gerard VK2IO, but I had no further callers. I still had a long drive home, so I closed the station and packed up.

To exit, I followed my nose out to the north, knowing that Brian VK3BCM had approached the summit from that direction. I headed north on Nursery Spur Road, with sections of the regenerating forest having solid fencing. I reached a T intersection and swung right into Lookout Spur Road. Take notice when you see the Bicycle signs – there is a downhill track which crosses the road a couple of times – expect to encounter high speed cyclists descending, especially on weekends!

Stay on the obvious main track until you reach a major T intersection with Pine Drive and swing right. Descend down to the intersection with Plantation Road to again turn right. Continue on straight ahead at the next intersections and you will find yourself on Anderson Lane and soon at the Maroondah Highway on the northern edge of Narbethong.

One should note that lots of the mapping shows tracks continuing at some intersections, but they have been blocked off. Follow the obvious main trafficked route and you should be okay.

I swung right onto the Maroondah Highway and headed across the Black Spur to Healesville and then made my way across the hills to reach the Princes Highway and eventually to home.

Again, thanks to all who called me during the afternoon.

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A new summit NW of Noojee

Sunday 8 December 2019

The area to the north of the township of Noojee is interesting geography. There is a complex valley system feeding into the Loch River with associated system of ridges rising to high knolls surrounding the valley complex. The Loch River is a tributary of the upper Latrobe River. Much of the terrain in this part of Victoria supports mountain ash forests which have long been harvested by the timber industry. Logging continues in the area. There is a complex network of roads and tracks in the area and careful navigation is required.

The northern and western boundaries of the Loch River catchment abut the Yarra River catchment and the north-flowing streams feed into the Upper Yarra Reservoir, a major water storage for the Melbourne Metropolitan area. As a consequence, many of roads are permanently closed and others are subject to seasonal road closures from May through to the end of November.

Other factors that anyone travelling on the roads in the area needs to consider are the likelihood of encountering logging trucks and coming upon road closures near active logging coupes.

NoojeeMap

The area to the north of Noojee. Image from SOTA Mapping Project and Google.

Sunday morning was cool but dry after a week with strong winds and occasional rain. Although the grass at home was looking like it needed to be cut, I decided to allow the ground to dry out for a few more days given the weather forecast. Despite the early cloud cover, I decided to head out to attempt to reach one of the new summits added on 1 November 2019.

I was perhaps a little too rushed in packing the car. I left the SOTA pack, radio and logging tablet at home! I did have redundant equipment in the car, so when I arrived at my first destination all was not lost.

I drove to Morwell and headed west on the Princes Highway to Nilma, north to Neerim South and on to Piedmont. I then took Boys Camp Road to Camp Creek Road and climbed up to McCarthy Spur Road and then Boundary Track. I decided on this route as it would avoid the complex road network in the Loch Valley. After about one kilometre, you pass the junction with Montane Road and reach the Road Closure gate immediately below the McCarthy Spur SOTA summit VK3/VT-039. The bush looked a LITTLE less dense than I recall from my activation in late January 2013. I had no plan to climb this summit again but preferred to continue towards my main target for the day.

Given the strong winds over the previous week, I was not surprised to find Boundary Track littered with leaf litter and many small to medium sized fallen branches. All were easily navigated around, with the loose gravel surface of the track otherwise easily travelled when using care and taking ones time – the winding road would likely be enjoyed by rally car drivers, but I wanted to get to my destination. I continued on until just north of the summit.

VK3/VT-085 (unnamed) 853 m 4 points Not Yet Activated

The area around the summit was logged on 2014 and 2015 and is now covered with eucalypt regrowth around 2 – 4 m high. I had examined the area on the SOTA Mapping Project the previous day and found the logging track that I had spotted on the satellite imagery. I was able to drive along this track to its high point and pulled over into what was probably a log loading area prior to the “rehab” work following logging. I parked here. My guestimate is that I was close to the boundary of the Activation Zone (AZ). I pulled out a battery, radio, and antenna into a shopping bag, grabbed a squid pole and climbed about half way up the slope towards the summit until. The regrowth was not too thick – one could weave your way through the young trees. I was sure that I was in the AZ and started to set up the station.

VK3_VT085_regrowth

Looking towards the summit proper – plenty of regrowth!

I strapped the squid pole to one of the saplings and soon had the antenna up and the station assembled. I set up VK Portalog to record my contacts on my new phone. I had a paper log which I could have used, but wanted to experience the logging software on the new mobile phone. I had one issue though – one of the Settings options could not be opened, with the key area located at the bottom of the screen. This meant that I could not activate the option to keep the screen on whilst logging. If I was too long between touches on the screen, the phone would close down, requiring re-opening the phone by double-tapping, then logging in via the security features….. A bit of a pain! I should note that I am one of several people helping author Peter VK3ZPF by beta testing a new version of the software package.

I spotted myself on SOTAwatch3 for 40 m CW. My first contact was at 2308Z (Saturday UTC) – John VK4TJ. A couple of minutes later were Geoff VK3SQ, followed by Garry VK2GAZ, Bill VK1MCW and Chris VK1CT. Summit qualified!

I moved to 40 m SSB, working Col VK3GTV followed by Peter VK3ZPF/p on Mt Bride VK3/VC-009, about 14 km to the west of me. I explained the issue with the settings screen to Peter, who said that he should have a fix in a few days. I returned to calling, working Phil VK3BHR, Peter VK3FPSR and Gerard VK2IO.

I had no further callers, so dropped down to 80 m SSB and called for several minutes but only worked Tony VK3CAT. I moved to 20 m CW and worked John ZL1BYZ, Gerard VK2IO (much stronger on 20 than 40) and Ian VK5CZ. The contact with Ian was complicated as another station was sending at the same time….. (When I returned home, I saw an email from a US station who thought that we had made a contact. I replied indicating what had happened at my end and apologised for not being able to confirm the contact.)  I called a couple of times without response and was about to give up, but saw a spot for a JA SOTA station. I moved up to 17 m CW and soon had Yuki JF1NDT/1 on JA/YN-048 in the log (429 sent, 449 received).

I was about to pack up when I saw a new spot, so moved down to 80 m CW and soon worked Warren VK3BYD/p on Mt Loch VK3/VE-005 in the Alpine National Park VKFF-0619.

After working Warren, I packed up and returned to the car.

Whilst descending, I considered my options. I decided to continue north along Boundary Track to reach Whitelaw Track and head east towards, hoping that I would not encounter any road closures.

The road up to Whitelaw Track was in good condition, as was Whitelaw Track. The drive was delightful – gently undulating terrain as the track wound its way up and down along the ridgeline surrounded by tall mountain ash forest. I did reach a Caution sign and found an active logging coupe, but the gates were open and I could drive through the edge of the coupe located on the south side of the track. I continued on to the target summit and parked close to the large sign for the National Park.

Mount Horsfall VK3/VT-028 1131 m 6 points
Yarra Ranges National Park VKFF-0556

I considered my options for locating the station and decided to use the sign to support the squid pole, with the station just to the north of the sign and thus located inside the Park boundary. With blues sky and few clouds, the views across the closed upper Yarra Valley were spectacular.

HorsfallView_Labelled_S

The view to the NNW from Mt Horsfall with key summits identified

I soon had the station set up and spotted myself on 40 m CW. Once again John VK4TJ was the first to respond. Several contacts followed: Jerry VK7EE, Bill VK1MCW and Ivan VK3ASG. I replied to an SMS from Warren VK3BYD regarding Andrew VK3ARR – he had not yet been spotted. I replied that the Alert said “+/- 1 hour” and shortly after received a response from Warren that Allen and Andrew were setting up. Next in the log was Allen VK3ARH/p on Federation Range VK3/VN-029 in VKFF-0556, around 29 km away to the west of north. Signals were good – 559 sent by me, with a response of 599. I then worked Tony VK3CAT followed by Warren VK3BYD/p, still on Mt Loch.

I moved up the band to work Andrew VK3ARR on Federation Range VK3/VN-029 on SSB and then moved slightly higher and worked Col VK3GTV. I spent several minutes calling with no responses.

I then moved up to 10 m SSB, working Gerard VK2IO, John ZL1BYZ and Ian VK5CZ.

With a dozen contacts in the log, I closed down and packed up.

I continued to the east along Forty Mile Break and then headed south along No 3 Road to reach Toorongo Road. No 3 Road had recently been resurfaced and was good travelling on a surface which was mainly soft but dry. I continued south and west on Tooroongo Road, passing through another active logging coupe which would likely be a road closure on a week day. I eventually reached Loch Valley Road, then headed south to Noojee, then west and south to Neerim South to grab some lunch at the Bakery.

I then travelled around to Crossover Regional Park and soon set up the station there.

Crossover Regional Park VKFF-0965

I decided on another activation here which would take my total to five activations, thus qualifying the Park for the Boomerang Award as an Activator. I set up the ZS6BKW and the IC-7300 on the tailgate.

I spotted on 10 m SSB and soon worked David VK5NAH, John VK5FLEA and Derryck VK4FDJL/5. I moved to 40 m CW to again work John VK5FLEA but had no further callers. I moved up 40 m SSB and was about to spot when Dieter VK3FFB started calling CQ. I answered Dieter and we had a brief chat. I moved back to 7.144 MHz, with the stations that had been chatting on 7.140 with loud signals having closed. I spotted myself and was soon making contacts: John VK5FLEA, John VK4TJ and his extra callsigns, Adam VK2YK, Gerard VK2IO, Rob VK2VH and VK4AAC/2, Gerald VK2HBG/m, Lee VK2LEE, Peter VK3RV and finally Brett VK2VW. I had 18 contacts in the log, so had comfortably qualified the activation for VKFF and therefore Boomerang Award.

I packed up and returned to the bitumen, heading south to Nilma and then to home via the Princes Highway.

Thanks to all who called me over the day.

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