Saturday 22 February was looking to be a good day to be out on a summit, with the chance of some summit to summit (S2S) contacts into NSW. The weather forecast was reasonable, plus it would give me a chance to get out of the Latrobe Valley: we have had 2 weeks of intense smoke from bush fires and fires in the open cut coal mines, started by the bush fires. I had some thoughts about some summits in the Moroka section of the Alpine National Park, so got the gear organised. However, as I was unsure of access options, I did not post any Alerts, other than a message on the SOTA_Australia group that I was heading into the park. The parkweb site had deleted the warning about the closure of Pinnacles Road, which had been closed due to reconstruction of a bridge across Little River.
The alarm was set for early Saturday morning and I set off to Stratford, then Briagalong and up Marathon Road. En route, I considered my options and also worked Greg VK2FGJW/p and Al VK1RX/p on summits. When I arrived at the junction of Marathon Rd and Castle Hill Track, I decided to start with Castle Hill.
VK3/VT-014 Castle Hill 1446 m 8 points
The start of Castle Hill Track is okay, but rapidly becomes rougher, with rocky sections. The Forester was able to cope okay, with careful steering and a slow, steady pace. I drove around to the sign indicating the start of the Castle Hill Walking Track and parked just off the road. I had read the notes from Wayne VK3WAM for this peak, so had a rough idea of what to expect.
After loading up, it is easy walking along an old 4WD track that is becoming overgrown to the picnic area. The only sign of a walking track is a post on the SE corner of the picnic area that looks as if it might have supported a sign. There is a lot of young regrowth at the eastern end of the picnic area, so I headed through that and soon spotted the first pink tape marking the track. It is easy to loose the track once you start up the hill, as there are many trees that have fallen. Keep your eyes open. I eventually lost the tapes and continued up the slope following animal pads or possibly walking pads. I reached the top of the southern knoll and was not convinced that it was absolutely in the Activation Zone (AZ) – looking closely at the OzTopo map, the saddle between the southern knoll and the summit knoll falls to below 1420 m, with the summit height of 1446 m. I started northwards and came across a stone cairn. These cairns lead you to the main summit cairn at the northern end of the very flat top of the hill. Be careful – you can sometimes loose them when heading north, but the going is relatively open with scrub patches and lots of rocky ground. In places, you can see very interesting patterns in the conglomerate rocks which make it look like very tightly packed paving stones.
There is a large summit cairn – over 2 m tall. I simply erected the small squid pole leaning against the cairn and ran the dipole out roughly north-south. Marshall VK3MRG/p was the first of 17 contacts. There were 5 S2S contacts, 2 of which were with the group on Mt Dandenong. The pile up had disappeared and I was considering packing up when Rod VK2TWR/p popped up for a final S2S contact. There was even a Castle Hill to Castle Hill contact, thanks to Gerard VK2IO. Given that UTC rollover was 35 minutes away and there were no further callers, I decided to pack up and head back – there were more peaks targeted for today.
It was easier following the cairns back to the south, but I again lost them on the descent. The top of the descent is rather rocky with thicker scrub and regrowth. It is okay to move through, one just needs to pick your way carefully. Eventually, I spotted some tapes lower down. The last section prior to the short bash through the regrowth is along a very old track.
Back at the car, I decided to try to continue along Castle Hill Track to get around to Mount Valentia VK3/VT-017. I needed to stop once to clear some fallen timber, but otherwise the track was pretty good going until after McDonald Gap Track. There were a few large wet & rutted areas, but navigated with care. After the junction with Junction Spur Track, the track became more challenging, with very steep sections with rock steps. I was able to select lines to get up all of these, and to dodge over obstacles along the way. In a couple of spots where the track was close to the steep drop into the valleys below, there were glimpses of the very steep pinnacle of Mount Valentia.
I had started off from the previous location at around 0005Z and finally made it to the bottom of the climb to Valentia at 0050Z to start the climb.
Mount Valentia VK3/VT-017 1434 m 8 points
Not previously activated.
Castle Hill track marks a hard left on a nice flat spot south of the summit of Mt Valentia, at just below 1400 m. After checking the map and considering the options, I decided to park here and tackle the steep slope to the summit. The vegetation was open and the going generally good, with care required in climbing the many short steep rock sections. Once at the summit cairn, I decided to simply hang the dipole with the centre at about 2.5 m in a tree branch – there were plenty about, which would have made getting the dipole up at a good height difficult. The dipole was low to the ground.
I had some good fortune – when I switched on, Rob VK2QR/p on Mt Jugungal VK2/SM-006 was in the middle of his first contact. So Rob was first in the log. Next up was Bernard VK2IB/3 on Mt Benambra for another S2S. I had 8 S2S contacts from here, bagging 5 separate summits – more of the MDRC group were active, so there were repeats with VK3/VC-025. A total of 23 contacts were made before I packed up and headed down.
The descent was uneventful – care was taken on both the steep rock sections and the steep slippery (lots of dry leaf litter) grassy sections.
Once back at the car, it was time to load up and to finish the rest of Castle Hill Track.
The descent of the Track on the west side of the summit was steep and very rocky. It was taken very slowly and carefully. I doubt that I would have been willing to tackle this section of track in the opposite direction. Further along there were muddy chopped up sections and a bridge in very poor repair, fortunately just wide enough for the Subie to cross – the downhill side of the bridge was seriously collapsed. Overall, Castle Hill Track is not for the faint hearted – a 4WD vehicle with good clearance is needed.
I safely got to Pinnacles Road, then tried out Shanty Hollow Road. The latter road has seriously deteriorated since my last visit – but that was back in 1998! Lots of deep ruts, lots of fallen timber up to about 200 mm and some deep ruts and puddles. I made it to beyond Little Round Plain Logging Road, but came to some very deep and steep sided pot holes. Time to abandon the attempt to get close to Mount Kent, which has not yet been activated: I was at least 5 km away from the summit of Mount Kent, with around 400 m vertical to climb. It was into the afternoon (after 1;30 pm) and I had already climb 2 summits. This one can wait for another attempt in the future, perhaps after having camped overnight at Horseyard Flat next to the Moroka River.
The good news – there is a new large concrete bridge across Little River.
As I was driving back towards Pinnacles Road, I worked Brenton VK2DDS/p on VK2/HU-094. I headed around to the bridge across the Moroka River and headed up Moroka Range Track. This had some large spoon drains and some rutted areas, together with one doubtful stream crossing (not really a bridge in its current state). The Subie did it comfortably – I drove up to the high point on the track and parked just off the road.
Lamb Hill VK3/VT-025 1267 m 8 points
This was previously activated by Wayne VK3WAM in late December, one of several summits activated on CW only. My approach was slightly different to that used by Wayne – I drove to the high point in the track and set off from there. I initially followed a shallow spur up hill, disturbing 2 large deer along the way. It was then basically straight up the hill until onto the summit flat area. Rather than heading another 120 m to the marked summit, I set up close to where I had hit the flat area – there is a very large area on Lamb Hill which is about 1260 m, well inside the AZ.
Matt VK1MA was first in the log on Lamb Hill, glad for a new Chaser Unique. 18 more stations were worked over the next 20 minutes, with no S2S contacts. After working Allen VK3HRA and briefly discussing his plans for Sunday, there were no more callers, so it was time to exit.
I had a couple of slips on the way down – steep ground covered with very dry leaf litter can be just like ice. Nothing worse than a couple of grazed knuckles, fortunately. Safley back to the car and I headed back to Moroka Road and decided to head out via Tamboritha Saddle, down to Licola and then back to the Latrobe Valley.
On the way out, I managed to chase Rob VK2QR/p on VK2/SM-021 and VK2/SM-023.
NOTE: The track profiles include all the time on the summit itself – the long almost flat bits. The “distance covered” during that time is largely the result of position jitter due to the satellite data received by the GPS. I was not moving, the GPS thinks I was!