A winter weekend in the Gippsland hills

The weather was looking to be OK for at least Saturday, so I posted some plans to the Alerts page. Given that the last couple of weeks have been cold but dry, with little snow (or rain) falling anywhere in Victoria, the idea was to attempt to get to Mt Skene, and then to activate Mt Shillinglaw and Connors Plain on the way back. If all went well, there were another couple of candidates that might be able to be done later in the day. None of these summits had been activated, so were attractive targets at 10, 8 & 8 points, plus the 3 point per summit seasonal bonus.

I had checked the VicRoads Alerts page, which showed no road closures in place – not true!

I approached by driving to Licola, where I found a sign indicating that the Licola-Jamieson Road is closed from the Queen’s Birthday weekend to Melbourne Cup day weekend – close to the typical seasonal road closure dates in Victoria.

As the sign indicated that the closure was at the Shire of Mansfield boundary, I thought that I would continue towards Mt Skene and determine just where the boundary was located. The bitumen surface finishes a few kilometres to the NW of Licola. The road surface from then on is in fairly good condition, with a few potholes in places & a need to watch for fallen rocks in some of the cut-in sections.

The road closure is not imposed by DEPI (used to be DSE), but by the Shire of Mansfield:
“Commencing Thursday 13th June, 2013, and pursuant to Clause 7 of Schedule 11 of the local Government Act 1989, Mansfield Shire Council advises the implementation of a seasonal road closure of part of the Jamieson-Licola Road over Mt Skene from Thursday 13th June to Thursday 31st October 2013.”

The closure is in effect from Mt Sunday Road (37.3444 S, 146.3280 E) through to the Shire of Mansfield / Wellington Shire boundary (close to the junction with Morris Road, 37.5368 S, 146.4777 E).

A further frustration is that the road closure does not show on Forest Explorer when you enable the “Road Restrictions” feature in the Layers control.

In some respects I was lucky – the boundary (start of the road closure) is a few hundred metres beyond N7 Track. This track junction was my target as a place to park to approach Connors Plain (VK3/VT-022). Thus a quick U-turn and back to N7 Track to park off the road and ascend into the activation zone.

Connors Plain (VK3/VT-022)
Looking at the area on Google Maps or Earth, the area around this summit looks odd. It is clear that there are nearby logging coupes, but the plateau itself has a very patchy appearance – it too has been logged and has patchy eucalypt regrowth at about 3-4 metres high. It has lots of old logging tracks in the area, which makes it easy to pick a route up onto the plateau. The SOTA summit is to the western end of the plateau (1305 m), with all of the plateau area inside the activation zone. After looking around closer to the actual summit and noting more remnant trees and a higher density of regrowth, I picked a spot a little to the north of the actual high point. There was a convenient large stump to use as an operating table, and a smaller one nearby to support the squid pole.

ConnorsPlainSetup

Operating site on Connors Plain

Action came thick and fast after switching on. S2S contacts with VK3MCD/p, VK3HRA/p and VK3WWAM/p, although I waited about an extra 40 minutes or so to catch Wayne VK3WAM. Not lost time, as it was a delightful day and I took a few photos of the set up and some of the views. A total of 32 contacts were made from Connors Plain.

The view north from the edge of the plateau at Connors Plain

The view north from the edge of the plateau at Connors Plain

After working Wayne, it was time to pack up and head back to the car. I drove back down towards Licola and then turned right onto South Road (37.5661 S, 146.4988 E). South Road joins Mount Selma Road (37.6217 S, 146.4578 E), but this is not obvious – it looks as if Mt Selma Road is a different road and South Road appears to simply continue. This is not helped by different maps having different names for the section of road south from the junction! Care is needed, as you could easily miss the road junction if you were not expecting it.

Looking west south west towards Mt Selma

Looking west south west towards Mt Selma

I headed west on Mount Selma Road to the junction with Mount Selma Track (37.61925 S 146.42947 E) and parked just of the road. Mount Selma Road was wet and slippery in places, but no problems were encountered on the approach. Mount Selma Track is officially closed, like many roads heading in towards the areas burnt by the Aberfeldy complex fires this last summer.

Mount Selma (VK3/VT-013)

Mount Selma summit

Mount Selma summit

It was an easy walk of about 150 m up the track to a track junction near a large clear area which is inside the activation zone, and then another 350 m along a small 4WD track to the actual summit. There was snow on the ground in areas where the trees gave shade. The convenient way to run the dipole at this site was WSW-ENE, which unfortunately had the antenna ends pointing more or less towards areas of interest – Melbourne and Canberra. As a result, signal reports received were a little lower than usual. My first contact here was with Brian VK3MCD/p on VK3/VE-110, followed by Paul VK5PAS, who advised that the 8 points had tipped him over the 1000 point mark to become Shack Sloth – well done Paul. I was aware that Andrew VK1NAM was also very close to achieving Sloth status, but unfortunately Andrew could not hear me from this site.

Altogether, 15 contacts were made from Mount Selma.

After closing, it was back down to the car and then heading east and then south towards Mount Useful. The road surface was OK, with a few rocky and a few wet patches. As usual, many potholes to dodge if possible… Along the way, the road changes name to Springs Road. Whilst approaching through the Mount Useful Scenic Reserve you get some great views at the northern face of the mountain, with the fire-spotting tower and radio masts very prominent. Mount Useful Track takes off at 37.7005 S, 146.50158E. One could park near the junction (about 1385 m) and walk up the track. I choose to drive up and then walk back down to exit the activation zone and then back to the summit – it would make for a faster exit later in the afternoon.

Mount Useful (VK3/VT-016)

The access track had snow on it for most of the upper half of the track, with wheel ruts making the typical gutters in the snow/ice. About 30 metres from the summit rock cairn, there was a marker post surrounded by a substantial steel frame, with both having a significant lean. I used the frame to support the squid pole.

A view on the summit of Mount Useful

A view on the summit of Mount Useful

27 contacts were made from Mount Useful, including a S2S with Wayne VK3WAM/p on Mt Bride.

I had a chat with some 4WD visitors, explaining SOTA, then exited at about 0540Z, shortly before Wayne VK3WAM/p started on 2 m FM on Britannia Ridge. I could not hear Wayne from the car, so simply started heading for home, but with a radio listening on 7.090 MHz. I heard people calling Wayne after travelling several kilometres, so pulled over and attempted to make contact. No luck on the first attempt, but then got through. I gave Wayne 51 and received a 31 in response – marginal, but enough for a valid contact. I really must make some time to improve the mobile installation! The contact was made just a little to the north of an access road into another SOTA summit – VK3/VT-034. However, this road is also closed at present, following the fires earlier in the year. DEPI has been pushing hard to encourage people from entering closed tracks, and the entire forest areas in the area are currently closed. This summit will need to wait until the forest is declared open.

It was a steady drive down to Seaton, with many sobering sites lower down. Even though most of the major clean-up has been done, it is obvious that lots of work is needed for residents to re-establish their properties.

After entering my logs later in the evening, I found that I had passed the 2000 point mark as a Chaser. Still a few to go to get the 2500 point certificate. A fun day in the hills. A total of 74 contacts from the 3 summits, 33 added to the Activator score, 5 S2S contacts plus one mobile contact with VK3WAM/p to add to the Chaser score.

Day 2

I hate it when you wake up an hour before the alarm and cannot fall back into the realm of slumber…. Such was the start to Sunday. Another peak to conquer, this to be my first with another operator – all other activations to date have been solo efforts.

Talbot Peak VK3/VT-010 in the Baw Baw National Park

The plan was to meet Allen VK3HRA at Moe at 0700. Having woken early, it had no problems in arriving early for the meeting. I called Allen at around 0715 and suggested meeting at the Moe Railway Station. Allen was running a little late, so our departure from Moe did not occur until around 0740. The drive up to the Mount Erica car park was uneventful, with lots of discussion on issues encountered whilst activating SOTA summits.
The car park (37.89301 S, 146.35495 E, 1100 m) was empty when we arrived.

View to Talbot Peak from Mt Erica

View to Talbot Peak from Mt Erica

We slowly got our gear organised and set off just before 0900 for the long uphill walk: about 4 km up to Mount Erica, with around 400 m climb, with another kilometre along with some ups and downs to the high point of the Australian Alps Walking Track at 37.87167 S, 146.34104 E on the side of Talbot Peak. From the high point, simply wander in through the undergrowth and between the snow gums to find the trig point.
I chose to use one of the legs of the trig point to support the squid pole. The horizontal brace piece was conveniently close to horizontal, so I used some of the strap holding the pole to the leg to hold the FT-817 to the horizontal brace, making for a convenient operating table. I could balance the log book on the brace and write in the log whilst holding the PTT button. I operated from a standing position, thus avoiding the need to sit in the snow/ice on the ground.

Allen was setting up some 20 metres away, using a fallen tree to support the squid pole.
I switched on the radio and heard Marshall VK3MRG/p calling from Mount Torbreck (VK3/VN-001). I quickly unpacked the logbook and called Marshall for a summit to summit contact – a good way to start to an activation! First contact at 0111Z, so about two and a quarter hours from the car park to being up on air. Stations quickly came along, including Andrew VK3NAM/p on VK1/AC-039 and Paul VK5PAS, both now Shack Sloths. After working Paul, I gave the rig to Allen, as he had high SWR on his antenna and the rig was simply shutting down in response. Allen qualified the summit very quickly, and just over 5 minutes later went to look at the antenna to see if he could solve the problem. I resumed using the radio and then worked Brian VK3MCD/p on Mount Timbertop VK3/VE-073.

Allen VK3HRA setting up on Talbot Peak

Allen VK3HRA setting up on Talbot Peak

After about 0133, things became quiet on 40 m, so I lowered the antenna to change to 20 m. I tuned around and heard a local with whom I had not chatted for a while, so broke in on the casual conversation to make contact and ended up explaining SOTA to the VK4 station at the other end after Mike had to go to the telephone. We then had Peter VK3ZPF/p on Mount Torbreck break in to make contact. After that, I was feeling the effects of the wind through the snow gums and decided to start to pack up. Allen was already packed and had completed a 2 m FM contact with the handheld to Marshall on Mt Torbreck.

Allen started down as I packed up. Once he was outside the activation zone (AZ), we made contact on 2 m FM to give Allen the summit Chaser points, after which I headed down whilst Allen walked back into the AZ. I then worked Allen for the Chaser points.

Allen VK3HRA during the descent

Allen VK3HRA during the descent

We headed back just after 0205Z, first around past Mt Erica, then down the steep descent. We stopped for a drink and lunch at Mushroom Rocks before finishing the descent to the car park.

The drive back was uneventful, with the trip being a little slow most of the way due to catching up with some slower cars and the road not having many opportunities to pass. We were back in Moe just after 1500 (0500Z) and departed in opposite directions after thanking each other for a great day out.

For me, I had 22 contacts in under an hour, including 4 S2S contacts (3 summits). This has boosted my Activator score to beyond the 400 mark.

Thanks for the company and great discussions throughout the day Allen!

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