Another Dargo High Plains trip

I took annual leave for the last full week prior to Christmas. My initial plans changed, with a call to be in Wodonga on Tuesday late afternoon for a surprise family gathering to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. To fit in with the surprise, I decided to travel up on the day, and considered several route options. I finally decided to travel up the Dargo High Plains Road and to include some SOTA along the way.

VK3/VT-018 Unnamed summit 1393 m 8 points

I was the first activator of this summit roughly 12 months ago, also on a trip up to Wodonga. The route was very similar, just without the trip out to Blue Rag Range trig on this trip. I was a little later than expected leaving home, but only by about 15 minutes. Good progress was made on the trip to Dargo and on up the major climb at the start of the Dargo High Plains Road. See the report of that trip here.

This SOTA summit has the road actually pass through the activation zone (AZ). I stopped a little before the AZ and walked up to the shallow saddle to the north of the summit and in along the old track. I set up on a fallen tree (a different one to that used in 2012) – this one had plenty of space for the radio and I could comfortably sit on the trunk beside the radio. I tied the small squid pole up to a sapling next to the fallen tree, with the dipole running along and across the track.

I was about 15 minutes ahead of my posted time and my first call on 40 m was answered by Dave VK2JDS. I had no mobile coverage and Dave was talking about spotting me, and then said that Ed VK2JI had spotted me. Not surprisingly, Ed was next in the log. I worked seven stations before 0000Z, and had no callers at around 2355Z. I quickly changed bands to 30 m and gave a few calls there with no responses. So at 2359, I changed back to 40 m and worked Ed VK2JI again at 0001Z, followed by five others. When the pile up was dealt with, I switched to 20 m and then 12 m, with no responses to any calls. At around 0025Z, I decided to pack up and head back to the car.

It was then an easy drive up the Dargo High Plains Road to the Blue Rag Range Track.

Mount Blue Rag VK3/VE-021 1679 m 10 points. Alpine National Park.

This was to be my second visit to this summit, a repeat on 12 months earlier. I parked at the top of the first steep climb on Blue Rag Range Track, where the track flattens out slightly prior to climbing up to the top of the spur/knoll north of the actual summit. It was then a walk up to the top of the knoll, south into the saddle along a 4WD track and on along the 4WD track after briefly admiring the lovely green alpine meadow in the saddle – it was obviously a popular camping site with 4WDers.

I walked south to roughly what I thought was the high point on the track – the summit region is long and fairly flat. One is inside the AZ pretty much as soon as the track south of the saddle starts to flatten out. I set up beside the track and pulled out the mobile phone. Rucksack Radio Tools said that I was 100 m away from the database location of the summit.

First in the log was John VK2YW, quickly followed by 7 others. Ed VK2JI noted that I was weak to him and would I try 30 m? I advised that I would try 30 m once I was through the initial pile up. Ed came back to my first call on 30 m, but he was the only station worked. I then tried 12 m with no responses, then moved to 20 m. It took a few calls, but I did work Mike VK6MB, John VK6NU and Geoff VK2AGC at Casino. I then moved back to 40 m, and quickly worked another five stations.

A total of 17 stations worked, including two VK6 Chasers.

It was time to pack up and head back to the car. On the return trip I did have a quick look down Blue Rag Range Track to the west. The initial portion looked to be in better condition than a year ago, having been rehabilitated following the Harrietville complex bush fires earlier this year. Blue Rag Range Track was a main control line for the firefight. Today I had another target in mind and did not attempt to travel out to Trig, but could see a 4WD making slow progress a couple of kilometres away. Once back at the car, it was back down to the Dargo High Plains Road and north towards Mount Freezeout.

VK3/VE-024 unnamed summit 1646 metres 10 points. Not previously activated. Alpine National Park.

As I approached Mount Freezeout (1642 m), it was clear that the fires had burnt the area, as I had hoped: On the trip last year, I gave up due to the very thick undergrowth in the first 50-100 metres from the picnic area. The day had been hot, I had 28 points from 3 summits, had been concentrating hard navigating the very rough Blue Rag Range Track and did not feel like bashing almost 2 kilometres through thick scrub all the way.

There is a parking/picnic area just off the Dargo High Plains Road about 500 m south of the Mount Freezeout summit. The road cuts around the western flank of the mountain, about 70 metres below the top. The picnic area is a nice spot to park and the obvious start of the approach to the SOTA peak to the east of Mount Freezeout – the northern slopes of Freezeout are steeper. From the maps, one option was to attempt to sidle around the south east slopes of Freezeout to the saddle between the peaks, so I initially walked vaguely towards the eastern shoulder of the spur running up to Freezeout. The slopes in the broad gully were very steep, with areas of thick scrub that had not been burnt. That made the route choice simple – weave my way up through the burnt debris and snow gums to the summit of Freezeout, about 430 m horizontally and about 60-70 metres vertically. Then head down the spur to the east to the saddle between the peaks – about 600 metres horizontally and a drop of 60 metres, then climb up the spur to the actual SOTA summit. From the saddle, there is a dog-leg spur to the summit, just over 400 metres horizontally with a climb of about 65 metres vertically. There were foot pads or animal tracks along the ridgeline, with a lovely grassy area in the saddle. It was relatively easy zigzagging between the fallen timber and burnt snow gums. On the actual summit, someone had created a small cairn, with one rock sitting vertically – perfect for the small squid pole!

There are great views in all directions from the summit, albeit through some of the burnt snow gums to the west. Many SOTA summits are visible, with Mount Hotham only about 7.5 km away just east of north, looking across the upper reaches of the Dargo River. I had good mobile signal strength, so spotted that I would be QRV in 10 minutes on 30 m SSB.

A quick drink and set up, and quickly worked Ed VK2JI on 10.130 LSB at 0410Z. Why LSB – well, that was the default on the FT-817! I did not think about it until Matt VK2DAG asked why I was using LSB. So I switched to USB, had a quick chat with Matt and called for any other takers (none heard) before dropping down to 40 m.

First in the log on 40 was John VK2YW at 0415Z, quickly followed by another 9 contacts until 0428Z. I then switched to 12 m and worked John VK6NU and Mike VK6MB. I had not further takers on 12 m, so tried 20 m for a couple of minutes without any contacts. Time was getting on, so it was time to return to the car via the same route taken to reach the summit.

I would suggest that the next year or so would be a good time to attempt this summit – before the scrub regrowth gets too far.

I probably should have stopped for a drink when I had climbed back to the summit of Freezeout, but kept going due to the time of day – I wanted to get to Hotham. I was very hot when I got back to the car, dropped the pack after putting my hat on the car roof, hunted the car keys out of the pack to unlock the car, loaded up and jumped in, first taking a good drink from a water bottle in the centre console. I then headed off towards the Great Alpine Road and up to Mount Hotham.

VK3/VE-006 Mount Hotham 1861 m 10 points

I parked near the track that heads up to the main telecoms tower east of the main summit. There is a locked gate across the track, but plenty of space to park nearby. From my reading of the contours, the lower area of the parking area is outside the AZ. I grabbed my pack and looked for the hat – nowhere to be seen! I had not taken it off the roof at the last parking spot – damn! I grabbed a small baseball cap instead and headed up into the AZ. I set up about 100 m east of the summit cairn, as I was running out of time. I spotted myself and quickly worked Marshall VK3MRG at 0608Z. By 0617Z, I had 13 stations in the log and no one replied when I called “QRZ?” after working Bill VK2YK, so I announced that I was going QRT. I was definitely going to be late for the 7 pm scheduled time in Wodonga.

So it was time to pack up, with no time to go back to look for the hat near Mount Freezeout. A late afternoon steady drive down to Harrietville, then Bright, Myrtleford, Yackandanda and on to Wodonga.

I rang the doorbell at Mum’s. When she opened the door, I think she was expecting it to be Dean, my youngest brother. She expressed extreme delight when I said “Happy Birthday!” We needed to wait another 30 or 40 minutes before Dean and his family arrived, so the surprise guests had all arrived before the expected guests. But Mum was delighted.

I will add some images as soon as I can.

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