A November long weekend trip to the Snowy Mountains

SOTA summits in VK2 became live on 1 September 2013. Very few (if any) Snowy Mountain summits had been activated up until mid-October. The first SM summit was Mt Townsend VK2/SM-002, activated by John VK3JSN/2 on 8 September. John had only 2 m FM and only worked 1 station under the SOTA rules. I spoke to him on the summit, but the contact was via a repeater, so was not valid for SOTA. The next activation was Livingston Hill by Al VK1RX/2 on 5 October, followed by Mt Kosciuszko VK2/SM-001 activated by VK2FAJG and VK1MDC/2 on 26 Oct 2013.

I had been in contact with Rod VK2TWR about SOTA and possible activations. We were restrained by my work commitments and weather considerations. Rod made his first SOTA activation on 26 Oct 2013, when he activated VK2/SM-068 The Peak (also known as Hudson Peak).

I organised to have a long weekend on the first weekend of November, taking leave for the Friday and Monday. Many Victorians have a public holiday on the first Tuesday of November, courtesy of a horse race held in Melbourne, but not me.

I managed to get away from work at about 1600 on Thursday and drove direct to Nimmitabel via Cann River. On arrival and after the usual pleasantries, Rod and I discussed plans for Friday. We decided to attempt Mt Kosciuszko VK2/SM-001, the highest summit on the Australian mainland.

Friday 1 November 2013

Mt Kosciuszko VK2/SM-001: 2229 m, 10 points.

We got away at a reasonable time and drove to Thredbo, parked and purchased the tickets for the return chairlift ride. This saves a small distance, but more importantly saves around 560 m in vertical climb! But the return ride is not cheap.

Once at the top of the chairlift, the walk to the summit is around 6.5 km, with around a total of 325 m climb. You start walking at around 1930 m ASL and climb to the summit at 2229 m, plus some ups and downs along the way. All of the walk is on formed walkways to protect the alpine environment: initially brick pavers and rocks, then steel walkways and finally a formed walkway which is the remnant of the old jeep track to the summit itself. Even in early November, there were considerable snow drifts around, including across the walkways: one had to walk across reasonable distances of firm snow covering the route. On at least one occasion, one of us stepped on the snow only to fall down off the edge of the walkway – quite disconcerting and potentially hazardous.

The day was relatively warm, with the temperature in the low to mid-teens. There was patchy cloud around, so the warm temperature was magnified by the sunlight reflected off the snow: a definite sunburn hazard.

Once we arrived at the summit, there were only a few other people around on top. But walkers continued to arrive. We set up by strapping the small squid pole to the summit cairn and ran out the link dipole on a north-south direction.

Initially, the other walkers were well away from the summit cairn, making for very comfortably safe operations. At times people came up close, so we simply stopped operating whilst they were close to the antenna. We explained to many of them what we were doing, including a group of secondary school students from Willunga in SA.

We had great views from the summit in all directions and were able to see many other SOTA peaks, including Mounts Bogong, Nelse and Cope to the west, Tingaringy, Delegate and the Pilot to the south, plus the many others that were closer.

My first contact was with David VK5NQP/p in Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park near Adelaide at 0128Z. I made a total of 11 contacts on the summit, all on 40 m. We tried a few calls on 12 m and 20 m, but had no replies. Rod comfortably qualified the summit with 8 contacts. We then packed up and headed down at around 0220Z, having had more than enough of being exposed to the moderately strong wind. One S2S contact each, with Andrew VK1NAM/2 on VK2/IL-005.

Rod VK2TWR/p on the summit

Rod VK2TWR/p on the summit. Mt Townsend behind Rod.

The walk back to Thredbo was much the same as the walk up – warm all the way and windy when out of the shelter provided by the terrain from the south-westerly wind.

We were back at the top of the chairlift with plenty of time to spare and enjoyed the ride back to the valley below.

During the drive back to Nimmitabel we discussed some of the summits that we passed, discussing possible access issues. We took a diversion onto Black Range Road to drive closer to Wullwye Hill VK2/SM-085. The summit is in a reserve, but the reserve is surrounded by private property.

During the evening, Rod rang a couple of people and identified the landowner near Wullwye Hill and was able to make contact. We obtained permission to cross his land to access the summit the following morning.

Saturday

Wullwye Hill VK2/SM-085: 1067 m, 6 points. Previously unactivated.

As we were scheduled to meet the landowner at around 1015 local time, we had a leisurely start from Nimmitabel before the drive to Severn Park to meet the owner. On arrival, he was in discussions with another person, so we waited until they were finished. Charles then offered to show us the route through the property up to the gate into the reserve. We parked near the gate, thanked Charles for his assistance and then loaded up for the walk to the summit.

The entire reserve has only a remnant foot track which is frequently lost in the regrowth, but progress was relatively easy – just head uphill until the terrain flattens out. The actual summit is around 160 m further on, on the southern knoll. At the summit there is a broken trig point and some rocks scattered about. I used a tree stump to support the squid pole. There were no issues in stringing out the link dipole.

Wullwye Hill Summit: broken trig & cairn.

Wullwye Hill Summit: broken trig & cairn.

We were set up and had our first contact at 0018Z – Matt VK2DAG. A further 17 contacts followed, including S2S with VK3YY/p, VK3ANL/p and VK3YAR/p. Rod worked 5 stations. We packed up and started heading back to the car at around 0200Z.

The plan was then to attempt to find the start of 2 fire trails into summits closer to Nimmitabel. We only found what looked like entrances to private farms! Hopefully Rod can find out some more information from local sources. We ended up back in Nimmitabel, then heading north towards Cooma and headed in to The Peak VK2/SM-068.

The Peak VK2/SM-068: 1230 m, 8 points.

Access to this summit is via The Peak Road, off the Monaro Highway. The Peak travels through private property and access was arranged by Rod, who had activated this summit 2 weeks earlier on his first activation.

The road winds through the property. There are several cattle grids to cross and many potholes to dodge, plus cattle and sheep to watch. After the last house, the road deteriorates to a track with many deep ruts. These can be negotiated with care or you can park at the base of the final climb and walk up the track. A direct approach up the hill is also possible as the ground is open, but the hill is steep.

VK3PF on The Peak - it was very windy!

VK3PF on The Peak – it was very windy!

We drove up to the flat area beside the Telstra compound and parked. I grabbed the gear and headed down the track until outside the AZ and then returned up to the flat area and then up to the summit trig point. The top section of the trig had snapped off – it was plastic pipe with a plastic flange holding to the plinth. Clearly this was inadequate in the face of the winds experienced at the site. I lashed the squid pole to the plinth and we ran out the link dipole.

The wind was very strong, so we were keen for a short activation. I worked 6 stations in 20 minutes – a little less hectic than that experienced on many activations!

We then packed up and headed down, then back to Nimmitabel for the night.

Sunday

Big Badja Hill VK2/SM-059: 1237 m, 8 points. Previously unactivated.

The weather forecast was for a cold front to come through from the south west. We decided to head north. Up to Cooma, then to Numerella and then along the Cooma-Braidwood Road. Continue on past Badja and up to the Pikes Saddle and right onto the Big Badja Firetrail. Head south. The track is a little rough in places and has many spoon drains – many appear a bit formidable from the downhill side but were all OK in the Subie. We parked at the start of the final access track, beside the “Big Badja Trig – No vehicle Access” sign, just below the summit, loaded up and walked south until outside the AZ, then back past the car to the walking track to the summit – short and steep.

The summit has a large rock cairn surrounding the trig. Vegetation is thick off track on the eastern side of the summit, but spare along the ridge line itself. We took the 7 m heavy duty squid pole plus the 2 m lightweight Yagi. The wind was very strong on top. We tried an untried coaxial collinear on 2 m FM with A station in Canberra – we could hear him with 100 W, but we could not be heard with only 5 W. With the wind, we decided against attempting to deploy the 2 m Yagi and set about erecting the link dipole.

Rod VK2TWR on Big Badja Hill. Note the curve in the squiddy!

Rod VK2TWR on Big Badja Hill. Note the curve caused by the wind  in the squid pole!

First contact was S2S with Marshall VK3MRG/p on VK3/VN-009. I answered all callers & tried 10 MHz for 5-10 min prior to UTC with no replies. Switched back to 40 m with perfect timing to catch Allen VK3HRA/p just before rollover & then again a couple of minutes later. A total of 23 contacts were made on 40 m, including several repeat contacts after UTC rollover. S2S contacts were also made with Allen VK3HRA/p and Ed VK2JI/p. Prior to packing up, I tried 20 m, and promptly worked Mike VK6WG and Nev VK5WG. I made a few calls on 12 m with no responses. We started packing up at around 0050Z and headed back to the car.

Back along the firetrail to Badja Road and then we headed north. We discussed options, knowing that the cold front had already hit Nimmitabel. We decided to head to VK2/ST-001.

Mt Cowangerong VK2/ST-001: 1364 m, 8 points.

Rod VK2TWR operating at VK2/ST-001. The radar dome is visible through the trees.

Rod VK2TWR operating at VK2/ST-001. The radar dome is visible through the trees.

We easily found the firetrail and headed south. But with no prepared map, once on the fire trail, drove to the right at the track junction instead of heading up. In the next saddle, the road was blocked by logging operations. While stopped, I checked the maps on the PC & retraced our steps and parked at the track junction a few hundred metres north of the summit. Walked up and set up inside the AZ, but down from the summit so as to avoid the RF noise reported by previous activators.

I quickly worked 4 stations, including S2S contacts with Ray & Marshall. Rod then worked 5 or 6 stations and I worked Ernie VK3DET for the last contact prior to packing up.

The wind was getting stronger!

We looked at our options and tried to find access to a couple of firetrails only be thwarted by what looked like private property. With winds still extremely strong, probably still increasing, we gave up and drove to Queanbeyan and then south to Cooma & Rod’s place. Admired all the nearby and distant summits but we both agreed they would not be nice places this afternoon!

Monday

VK3/VG-034 Unnamed summit: 1085 m, 6 points. Previously unactivated.

I was packed and away from Nimmitabel at a reasonable time, then headed south along the Monaro Highway to Bombala to grab some fuel and food, then down the Delegate and on towards Bonang. After Delegate River East, I watched for Tingaringy Track and then up to the saddle and the junction with Rays Track to park. Walked up to the summit, encountering a large tree branch across the road at about half way – if I had attempted to drive up, this would have stopped the approach. Walked around & over this one and then on to the summit. Rapidly set up and got onto 40 m.

The summit of VK3/VG-034 - I almost forgot to take a photo.

The summit of VK3/VG-034 – I almost forgot to take a photo.

The weather was cold & wet – occasional rain/sleet & snow flurries. Fortunately, I was able to activate the summit with only a lightweight rain/wind jacket required. The first contact (Rod VK2TWR) was made at 2300Z, followed by a further 18 contacts over the next 18 minutes, including a S2S with Peter VK3ZPF/p. The rain started again, so it was time to pack and head back down. The GPS batteries died during this activation and I had not packed spares.

Perhaps this one could be named “Rays Track”.

Mt Koolabbra VK3/VG-061: 1097 m, 6 points. Previously unactivated.

I retraced my route back to the car and turned south on the Bonang “Highway”. A few kilometres south to Koolabbra Track, then left and climb up towards the summit. As an area that looks as if it has been previously logged, there are many track junctions, but the main route is quite obvious.

There were trees and branches across the track that needed clearing – fortunately I was able to clear a path with no tools, or to walk around them after parking the car below the AZ boundary. On this summit, the track passes over the summit AZ, so I parked down the hill and walked up the final 200 m.

All the gear is under the nylon fly!

All the gear is under the nylon fly!

This time I simply threw a line over a tree branch and hauled up the dipole centre insulator. The centre was only about 4 m above ground, but with the weather, I was going to give it a try. The first contact was with Ben VK3FTRV/p for a S2S. A total of 15 contacts were made in about 17 minutes, with me underneath a nylon flysheet simply draped over myself and the radio to keep off the rain & snow.

I tried to head out from the second summit via the eastern route & got 2/3 the way down before I came to monster tree across the road, so had to retrace my steps. If I had been able to get through the intended route, I was thinking about another nearby summit. By time I was down to Bonang, I decided to head south and to get into Mt Ellery.

The trip down to Goongerah was uneventful, just very windy. Then it was onto Sardine Creek Road and Ba Track.

The road surface very slippery & there were more trees & branches across the road. After clearing a few & much slipping & sliding even in 4WD Low Range, I decided to abandon the attempt less than 25% of the way around to the Mt Ellery parking area. I carefully retraced steps & then headed to Orbost. I briefly considered heading back up the Bonang Highway to activate the Errinundra NP, but decided to head south away from the rain & cold.

Once on the Princes Highway, I thought about my options. Near Bairnsdale, I decided to try for VK3/VT-070 – a previously unactivated summit.

Unnamed summit VK3/VT-070: 455 m, 1 point. Previously unactivated.

From Bairnsdale, I headed west on the Princes Highway until just past the Billabong Roadhouse, then north to Ferndale, on to Stockdale and across almost to Briagalong before cutting across to the Freestone Creek Road. This road rapidly becomes narrow and windy, working its way along the narrow steep-sided valley. I then took Ten Mile Track up to Mount Moornapa (486 m), then on to Tower Link Road and parked on the edge of the road at the sweeping corner to the SE of the summit. That left a climb of about 30 m vertical and around 200 m to the summit. The walk was fairly clear, as the area has been burnt in the past. There were a couple of patches of regrowth to wriggle through, but no major issues.

Gear at the summit of VK3/VT-070. Almost forgot again...

Gear at the summit of VK3/VT-070. Almost forgot again…

I quickly set up on the summit with the squid pole & link dipole. I quickly worked 15 stations in 15 minutes on 40 m, then packed up and headed down to the car.

This summit is likely to disappear in the next VK3 update – it was incorrectly mapped in the initial survey. Mount Moornapa has prominence over this hilltop and will become a new summit, with VT-070 disappearing. It might be an opportunity for someone to get 2 points fairly quickly – activate VT-070 prior to UTC rollover on the day of the update, then move up to Moornapa for the new summit.

As Ten Mile Track was relatively rough, I decided to continue in the direction of travel prior to parking the car, and exit using Bullockhead Creek Road. This was a good move, as the surface was smoother than Ten Mile Track. Then back down Freestone Creek Road to Briagalong, then bitumen surface all the way home.

Over the weekend I managed to chase a few activations from the car or from Rod’s station, thus helping the Chaser score along a little. I also missed some, but that is a fact of life if you choose to attempt more than a single activation in a day!

Thanks for all the activators that I managed to work over the weekend & also all the chasers who chased both Rod & myself over the weekend.

Special thanks go to Rod & Judy for their hospitality for the weekend!

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One Response to A November long weekend trip to the Snowy Mountains

  1. Andrew Davis says:

    Very productive weekend, executed at your normal pace – fast! well done Peter and Rod.

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