An autumn weekend near Mount Hotham

Back in the middle of March, Rob VK3EK made contact asking about some of the summits located near Mount Hotham – I had activated several of the summits. Rob and some others were thinking about booking accommodation at Hotham and tackling some of the summits over the first weekend in May. I mentioned that I was a member at a lodge at Hotham and might be able to book people in as guests. I was quickly invited to join the group and started making the arrangements.

Plans were a little loose, but we managed to get a total of 8 people organised. We had the lodge to ourselves, so all was looking good for a great weekend of SOTA and camaraderie. I organised to take the Friday as annual leave, making it another long weekend. Unfortunately, the loose plans became a little fractured, with wet, cold and very windy weather forecast.

Friday May 2 2014

Mount Budgee Budgee VK3/VT-041 869 m 4 points Not previously activated (NPA)

Rob VK3EK was planning to activate Mount Loch at around midday on Friday, with Mike VK3XL planning on activating Mount Elizabeth as a diversion on his way to Hotham. I decided to head to Hotham via Dargo and the Dargo High Plains Road, which gave several activation options.

I got away at a reasonable time and was making good progress. I was running ahead of Mike and Rob was well up the road. As I was heading toward Dargo, I decided to have a look at the track to Mount Budgee Budgee, which I thought had not yet been activated. The weather had been a little wet, but Mt McDonald Gap Track was not too bad – steep in places with some large spoon drains, a little slippery in places, but not many deep ruts. It is about 2.3 km to the summit from the Dargo Road, with a climb of about 360 m vertical, so could be walked. I drove to the summit, parked, exited back down the track and back up to the summit & set up on the trig point.

Mt Budgee Budgee

Mt Budgee Budgee

I had not posted an alert, but a call on 40 m was quickly replied to by Tony VK3CAT. I worked another 5 stations, after which my calls had no replies, so I packed up and headed back down the hill. The contacts included Andrew VK2FAJG/P on Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040 for a S2S. Rob VK3EK reported poor conditions on Hotham, and that he was abandoning thoughts of Mt Loch. Instead, he was heading down the Dargo High Plains Road to look at some of the summits south of Hotham.

I travelled on toward Dargo, looking at the several as yet not activated summits that are visible from the road. I decided against tackling any of them, instead heading to Dargo and up the Dargo High Plains Road to VK3/VT-018.

VK3/VT-018 1393 m 8 points

As I was getting close to the parking area, I heard several people working Rob VK3EK/p on Blue Rag Range. I decided to not call him – bad decision – as I thought that I might be able to set up quickly and catch a S2S. By time I was set up, Rob had packed up and was heading back down out of the bad weather – strong winds and snow falling. I should have called him from the car and asked him to wait for me to get on air….

I set up at around the same spot as back in December. A total of 17 contacts were made, including a S2S with Mike VK3XL/P on Mt Elizabeth No 2 VK3/VG-074. It was then time to pack up and head toward Hotham.

I detoured to the track that goes to Mount Blue Rag and called Rob on VHF. We chatted and I waited for Rob to get to the track junction – a track that Rob had missed earlier. Rob headed in toward the summit to activate it. I decided that it could wait until later in the year. Ron VK3HAK and I headed off up the road, stopping near Mount Freezeout. Both Ron VK3HAK and I worked Rob on Mt Blue Rag, before heading further into the cloud to get to Hotham.

At Hotham, we unloaded the cars prior to parking them away from the lodge, then got settled in, including firing up the gas heaters. A late lunch and a coffee were most welcome whilst we awaited the arrival of the others. Good company, good food and some drinks were shared into the evening.

Saturday 3 May

On getting up on Saturday morning, we had around 6 cm of snow on the balcony, we were in the clouds and the wind was blowing strong. Plans were discussed over breakfast – we decided to tackle some hills closer to Omeo which were a little lower. Mike was going to start on Mount Sam, Rob on Mount Livingstone and John and I headed to Mount Phipps, giving us all opportunities for S2S contacts. The downside was for some of the Chasers – the activations would be short, but most would get a second or third chance as we would move around from one summit to the next.

Mount Phipps VK3/VG-015 1536 m 10 points

John VK3MGZ on Mt Phipps

John VK3MGZ on Mt Phipps

I had activated this summit in September 2013, but this time I approached via Zig Zag Track. We set up at the summit using the Mount Phipps sign to hold up the squid pole. I only worked 5 stations here, with S2S with Mike and Rob. I then encouraged John to activate the summit. Once we had both worked the immediate Chaser pile up and both Rob & Mike, we closed down, advising listeners that the summit would be activated again soon.

We packed up and headed south and onto Birregun Road – slippery in places with some pot holes. The main Birregun Road now skirts around the summit, but the track up to the summit with its helipad and comms compound was clearly marked.

Mount Birregun VK3/VT-020 1363 m 8 points NPA

John VK3MGZ on Mt Birregen

John VK3MGZ on Mt Birregun

We set up on a log south west of the summit, giving us about 100 m spacing from the comms compound.

I worked 14 stations, including S2S with Mike, now on Mt Livingstone, and Rob, now on Mt Phipps. Again, John worked several stations, qualifying his second SOTA summit.

We packed up and headed back toward Omeo, to fill the fuel tank. Along the way, I gave some guidance to Mike as he approached Mount Phipps. Rob was heading towards Mount Birregun. From Omeo, it was off towards Hotham, but with a detour onto Mount Livingstone Road.

Mount Livingstone VK3/VG-045 1227 m 8 points

We set up near one of the comms compounds, but well away from the Air Services facilities. I worked 22 stations, with S2S with Mike on Mount Phipps and Rob on Mount Birregun, plus John VK6NU on 20 m. We retreated from the weather to have some lunch whilst we waited for Mike to travel to Mount Birregun so that Mike could score a S2S. After that, we worked a few more before we packed up and headed back to Hotham. As John and I were the closest, we were first back to the lodge and fired up the heating.

Saturday night was rather like the night before – good company, good food and some drinks were shared into the evening. However, people headed to bed a little earlier this time!

Sunday 4 May

The rain on Saturday had washed away the snow, but we had more overnight – about 3-4 cm. We all had breakfast, completed a clean-up of the lodge and loaded up the cars. Mike headed up to activate Mount Hotham, watched by myself and Rob and his passengers from the Mount Loch car park. Ron and John both started their trips home. Rob and I worked Mike on 2 m FM and I headed toward Omeo and down to the Bindi Road, then onto Nunniong Road.

Nunniong Road was in good condition for the early part of the climb, having had relatively recent works done. I headed up to Telegraph Track to head to Mount Nugong. This had a very soft and slippery surface – low speed and low-range engaged made for comfortable climb toward the summit.

Mount Nugong VK3/VG-018 1482 m 8 points

I parked beside the telecoms compound and walked down outside the AZ. Climbing back up, I set up a couple of metres vertically below the trig, using a bush to support the squid pole. This position had me out of the worst of the wind, coming in from the SW.

First in the log was Ian VK5CZ/P on Illawarra Hill VK5/SE-014 for a S2S. Shortly after, another S2S, this time Darren VK1FAAM/P on Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040, on his first activation. Further S2S contacts were made with Rob VK3EK/P on VK3/VG-036, Andrew VK1NAM/p on Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040 and Mike VK3XL/P on Mt Baldhead VK3/VG-027.With 26 contacts in the log, I packed up and started the drive toward Mount Nunniong.

A little attention to the map was in order, with a few track junctions. Several open gates were passed through – the road is subject to seasonal road closures. Some of the areas looked delightful – open snow plains around Nunniong Plains amongst snow gums at higher altitudes would make for some excellent skiing and snow camping if you were so inclined, but might require a long ski in from the gates.

Mount Nunniong VK3/VG-011 1617 m 10 points

Mt Nunniong station

Mt Nunniong station

Further up the road, turn east (right) into Jam Tin Flat Track and travel about 6.5 km to Blue Shirt Track. The track junction is close to the activation zone based on height. I walked the approx. 1 km south along Blue Shirt Track and then up through the open scrub to what appeared to be the highest point. I set up by hoisting the dipole centre up into a low (about 3 m) branch of a large snow gum and sat on the rocks. The approach from the track was relatively open, with some low scrub, some fallen timber and some snow still on the ground.

Tony VK3CAT was first in the log, followed by a further 19 contacts in around 25 minutes, all on 40 m. I managed S2S with Mike VK3XL/p and Rob VK3EK/p on Mt Delusion. Despite the snow gums, the summit was more exposed to the breeze, so after working Mike and Rob I headed back down to the car. At one spot, RRT announced a spot. When I checked it, I saw that there was another summit less than 11 km away…..

I headed back along Jam Tin Flat Track to Nunniong Road, then north. More gates plus some large puddles (one with a deep hole inside) were negotiated.

Brumby Hill VK3/VG-012 1581 m 10 points NPA

The junction of Nunniong Road and Forlorn Hope Track is inside the AZ. I parked at the junction and headed NW along the road until outside the AZ, then returned back to the track junction and walked around the locked gate. This summit is inside the Alpine National Park and Forlorn Hope Track is Management Vehicles Only, travelling through the Buchan River Headwaters Wilderness Zone. A sign says Walkers only. I walked out around 200 m to close to the position of the summit as shown by the SOTA data. The summit is broad and flat, covered with quite thick snow gums once you are off-track, so I set up on the edge of the track. The centre of the dipole was again supported simply by a line over a snow gum branch, with the dipole running along the track edge.

I quickly worked 17 stations on 40 m, then packed up and headed back toward the car.

Another yet to be activated summit is about 11 km east along the Forlorn Hope Track – Forlorn Hope VK3/VG-019. It would probably take about 3 hours to walk out to it, so that one will need to wait for another visit to the area. It was too late in the day to consider this trip.

Just before getting to the car, RRT announced a new spot, which I checked. A new summit for the afternoon – Mark VK3ASC/p and Erwin VK3ERW/p were active on Mt Granya. I quickly set up beside the track only a short distance from the car. I promptly worked Mark for S2S, then worked 2 more stations before giving Erwin a S2S. Then it was time to pack up and get into the car, then look at the VicRoads Directory to consider travel options. As I was close to Limestone Road, I continued north to Limestone Road. I turned right, then left into Misery Trail.

Mount Pendergast VK3/VG-022 1450 m 8 points NPA

Misery Trail was a little slippery and rutted in places, but I took a steady approach using low range in the Forester when conditions deteriorated. It is about 2.8 km from Limestone Road to the summit, with a climb of about 230 m vertically. I parked at the junction of Misery Trail and Mount Pendergast Track, descended out of the AZ then climbed back up the track to the summit. Set up was with a convenient stump about 5 m from the trig and a little north of the Telstra compound. I spotted myself before I had properly run out the dipole – it had been a long day!

First in the log were Mark VK3ASC/p and Erwin VK3ERW/p on Mt Granya for S2S contacts. A further 20 contacts were made, all on 40 m. Then it was time to pack up, as the afternoon was getting late (1545 K) and the air cooling down. Plus it was going to be a long drive home! Back to the car, then down the hill and back to Limestone Road, then west toward Benambra. From Benambra, it was back to Omeo, then Bairnsdale via the Great Alpine Way and back to Churchill.

The plan for the day had been to activate Mounts Nugong and Nunniong for 18 points. I doubled that score by adding in Brumby Hill and Mount Pendergast. I had thought about Mount Elizabeth No 2 as a diversion on the way back to Bairnsdale, but decided against it when I was approaching the turn off – 4 summits for the day had tired me out.

Overall, we had a great weekend and managed to bag several new summits. The way we tackled the summits on Saturday meant that we all had 3 complete summits in a day. Everyone seemed to be happy with our accommodation on Hotham, so another trip may eventuate sometime in the future, but perhaps not as late into autumn!

Thanks to the gang for the great company, and to all the chasers for being patient (especially on Saturday).

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One Response to An autumn weekend near Mount Hotham

  1. vk3xl says:

    It was a great weekend Peter, thanks for the company and the access to the lodge. I think this may become a semi regular event and maybe a few more activators will join us for future visits to Hotham.

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