Although the announcement had not been made publicly until the day before, Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH gave a couple of days’ notice (to those who had helped with the VK2 mapping task) that the VK2, and VK4, SOTA Associations were to go live on Sunday 1 September 2013. In Australia, the first Sunday of September is Fathers’ Day, so some amateurs would have limited time to play radio. The weather forecast for Victoria was good, so on Saturday afternoon I did a quick plan for Sunday. I posted an Alert only for the first intended summit: Mt Tamboritha VK3/VT-011, for 0000Z. The idea was to be on a summit by around 0000Z and join in the fun with those operating new VK2 summits, including 2 operators from VK1.
I was up early with the alarm, and was on the road by around 0645K. The drive plan was to Traralgon, then Cowwarr and Licola, up to Tamboritha Saddle to park, then walk up to the summit. I had a good run and no fog around. I arrived at Tamboritha Saddle at around 0820K. This would mean plenty of activating time on the summit, probably followed by a wait before I could work the VK2 SOTA stations after 0000Z, when the summits would hopefully become “live”. I decided to head straight towards my next planned summit – it would be good to be activating a previously not activated summit on this first day of VK2 & VK4 activity. Plus, Mt Tamboritha is relatively close and could be activated on another trip in future – for example whilst heading further north to Mt Howitt or other summits.
Cromwell Knob VK3/VT-012 – Alpine National Park
1489 m, 8 points plus 3 point winter bonus. No previous activations.
From Tamboritha Saddle, I headed north to Arbuckle Junction and then easterly along Moroka Road, past McFarlane Saddle and beyond the Mount Wellington Track to a spacious parking area at the start of the unmarked Cromwell Knob Track. The early part of the track has overhanging vegetation and some puddles. The distance to be covered was only about 4.6 km, so I thought that I would simply walk in to the summit. Of course, I had forgotten about the vertical climb….
Progress was good early along the flat 4WD track, with a few more puddles, but no other vehicle obstacles until around 1.3 km in. There was a fallen tree across the track, about 30 cm high. Someone had built a short ramp on either side using branches, but this would have been sufficient to stop my Forester. There was evidence of skidding on the branches and trunk, plus a very rough track through to scrub on the south side of the tree trunk. I could have saved some time if I had driven this far. Another few hundred metres on there was a boggy looking area in a gully, but the ground felt firm when I probed with a walking pole. This is the low point of the approach, at 1181 m. Further on, there was evidence of at least one 4WD having been along the track recently, with well-defined tyre marks on the track in the soft areas. In places, there was waist to chest high regrowth in the middle of track. Plus of course the usual spoon drains to divert runoff away from the track. A large 4WD could probably drive all the way to the saddle about 350 m from the summit – the evidence was there.
From the gully at 1181 m, it is around 2.8 km to the saddle near the summit, with 268 m climb. On the north-western side of the saddle, there is a lot of tree debris on the ground as a result of wind damage. It took a little route finding to weave a route through the debris field, making the actual distance covered longer than the 350 m direct route (40 m vertical climb). The rest of the summit approach was straight forward, through tall snow gums and low but open undergrowth. There are rocky outcrops higher up.
I finally got to the high point and set up a new lightweight squid pole with the help of a dead & fallen tree branch. The tip of the new pole bent over a fair bit, so I must remember to tie off a little lower down next time. I had a dead tree trunk as a seat and a rock to sit the radio on. I gave my first call at around 0050Z.
After a short chat with VK1MDC, there was a steady stream of callers, not the usual monster dog pile that usually happens following an Alert being posted. I worked 19 stations, including S2S contacts with VK1NAM/p, VK2LAX/p, VK2JI/p (with VK2LAX), VK1DI/p, VK2ONZ/p, VK2YW/p, VK3PI/p and VK3KAB/p.
I pulled out the camera, only to find that the battery was flat! The shots taken with the mobile phone are ordinary, so I have included only one here. I started to pack up at 0140Z and started the walk back to the car.
I was back at the car by 1300K and had lunch. I then drove to McFarlane Saddle to park for the next summit, arriving at around 1345K.
Trapyard Hill VK3/VT-005 – Alpine National Park
First thing to do was to remove the compact camera (flat battery) and add the DLSR to the pack! I headed off along the walking track toward Picture Point & Tali Karng. At around 500 m in, there is a track junction – turn left. Following the foot pads across the snow grass plain was easy, but keeping on track became tricky once into the regrowth. The track becomes somewhat broken up as it descends to a saddle (at GR 55 H 487580 5852107) around 1.5 km beyond the track junction. Leaving the saddle, one can pick up the track again, but it quickly becomes tricky to follow in the regrowth – concentration is needed. It heads roughly south east, climbing diagonally up below a prominent rock band. Eventually it swings back to the NE and into the saddle to the east of the rock band, then heads E and then NE diagonally up the side of the main summit. At the apparent peak of the track, the regrowth once again becomes thick, so I decided to make a direct assault, zig-zagging up the western side of the hill.
I reached a nice plateau only a few metres below the rocky summit. Close to the rock face were some nice dead trees. I was clearly in the AZ, so I picked an operating site and managed to get a line up over a branch and hauled up the dipole, with the centre at around 4 m above ground.
11 contacts were made in 16 minutes. All the SOTA Activators had left their hilltops, and three were worked from their home stations.
After a few unanswered calls, I packed up and headed down, picking my way through the rocky patches. Once back at the track, I followed it back to saddle behind (east of) the rock band and considered my options. I decided to take a direct exit, and headed north to the Moroka Road (dropping around 90 metres), in a fashion similar to the previous group. The scrub was not too bad on the way down.
Once onto the road, the walking was much easier, although it meant that I had a longer distance and more vertical to climb to get back to the car. At least the walking was very easy and by now I was feeling tired.
At around GR 55 H 487696 5852248, there is a small track on the south side of the road, near a gully. It did not appear to go more than about 20 metres, but it would lead to a short bush bash south to the main saddle on the walking track, about 200 metres horizontally and about 25 m vertically. There would be a little bush-bashing, but the scrub looked relatively open – moderate trees plus scrubby undergrowth. This might be an interesting starting point to attack Trapyard Hill – it would save 1.6 km each way, plus around 50 m of climbing on the return journey.
I suffered some cramping during the return walk up the road and had already used up all water – perhaps I was a little dehydrated with all the climbing on a warm day. I finally got back to the car, loaded up the gear, had a good drink and ate an apple before starting the trip home.
I arrived back in Churchill at around 1845K after a long tiring day. But it was delightful – great weather (although almost too warm), 24 Activator points earned and plenty of S2S contacts, including six VK2 summits. I heard no VK4 stations, although one of the VK2 operators had mentioned hearing a VK4 chaser at one stage. I could not hear them when I called for VK4 stations. Hopefully we will see some VK4 summits activated soon.