Family duties amongst some SOTA fun

I had been planning to catch up with Erwin VK3ERW for a SOTA excursion from Wodonga on Saturday 11 October 2014. All was looking good for an early start on Saturday to make the most of the last weekend of the winter seasonal bonus period. That was until I found out that my niece was planning her 21st celebrations to start on Saturday at 1300 local time!

The weekend started early, as I had a medical appointment in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs on Friday morning. So a plan emerged, based around heading generally northeast after the appointment.

Mount Buller VK3/VE-008 1805 m 10 points

Once away from the medical facility, it was a simple matter to head to Mansfield and then up to Mount Buller. The ski season had finished, so there were no entry fees to pay and good fortune had it that the road to the summit car park was open. This left a short walk of about 500 m horizontally with a climb of about 85 m vertical – hardly a difficult approach for the winter bonus!

I could have settled for a spot below the summit cairn, but went all the way up and used the cairn to support the squid pole. I started the activation on 14 MHz, but could not complete a contact. Despite trying hard, the calls from VK3YY/p were weak and Glenn could not hear my responses. So off to 40 m, where 17 contacts were made.
Then it was back down to the car and then down the mountain toward Merrijig, and thence north and north-east.

Bald Hill VK3/VE-087 1212 m 8 points

Bakers Creek Road was a little rough with wash out ruts. Once on Buttercup Jeep Track, the track was reasonable, but with some fallen timber to dodge and large spoon drains to negotiate. Cambatong Road was rougher, but easily tackled with care. I drove to the summit, and then walked out to the north until outside the AZ.

Cobbler From Bald Hill

Mt Cobbler From Bald Hill

I started calling again on 20 m without a contact. 30 m was rewarded with a contact to Adam VK2YK. Back to 40 m for a further 13 contacts, including S2S with Rod VK2TWR/p and Rob VK2QR/p, both on VK2/SM-024.

I packed up and headed back to Mansfield and then up to Benalla and the Hume Highway to Wodonga.

Saturday morning was an early start, picking up Erwin VK3ERW just after 0730 local. We headed to Tawonga and then up Mountain Creek Road and Eskdale Spur Track. There was a reasonable amount of small fallen timber on the track, but the larger material had been cleared, so no delays. Once near the summit, we parked and walked up.

Mount Emu VK3/VE-061 1360 m 8 points

Mount Emu has a hang glider launch area, so it is clear on top with a launch strip to the SW. I had offered the use of my 2 m home-brew SOTA Yagi to Erwin, so I set that up showing him the construction, storage and assembly steps. Erwin then used the Yagi to activate the summit using 2 m only. I set up the HF linked dipole about 20 m away, using a sapling to support the squid pole.

Erwin VK3ERW on VK3/VE-061

Erwin VK3ERW on VE-061

First in the log was a S2S with Mark VK3ASC/p on VK3/VE-237. A total of 23 contacts were made, with additional S2S contacts with Tony VK3CAT/p and Ron VK3AFW/p (both on VK3/VN-027) and Ian VK1DI/4 on VK4/SE-001. We packed up and headed back down the hill.

Just as we approached the Kiewa River, we heard activity on 40 m. I pulled over near the river and worked Ian VK7IS/p on his first SOTA activation on VK7/SC-052.
From there, it was back to Wodonga for the 21st celebrations.

Sunday morning was another early start after a late night. I was under way by about 0730 local and headed off to Mitta Mitta and up the Omeo Highway. Once over the high point, it was down the hill and then left into Knocker Road. I heard some stations working Fred VK3DAC/p on Mt St Leonards, but I could not hear anything from Fred – conditions were strange. I parked at the start of the Knocker Link Track, which Forest Explorer showed as subject to a winter season road closure. I walked up but there were no gates or signs, only a couple of fallen snow gums that could have been negotiated.

The Knocker VK3/VG-016 1506 m 10 points

I set up near the trig, using a sapling for the squid pole support. The dipole was strung out to another sapling at one end and the trig at the other.

First contact in the log was Chris VK4FR/5 in a SA Conservation Park. Next was a S2S with Rob VK3EK/p on VK3/VT-043. The last of the 10 contacts was another S2S, with Ian VK3TCX/p on VK3/VG-029. I spent about 10 minutes calling on 20 m without any responses. Closer in stations were very difficult on 40 m – obviously the ionosphere was somewhat upset.

After packing up, it was back to the car, back down to the Omeo Highway toward Omeo and thence to Benambra to grab some food at the General Store. Then out towards the east, up the Benambra-Limestone Road, then the Beloka Road and then Beloka Range Track. The Beloka Range Track actually diverges off what appears to be the main track and quickly became very rough – the track had been cut up badly by several heavy vehicles when conditions were very wet, resulting in very rough and deep ruts. I considered changing plans, but managed to get up to the start of Johnnies Track and up to Johnnies Top – it was slow progress requiring much concentration and careful navigation to stay out of both ruts in the Forester. Definitely 4WD country with the track in its current condition. I parked at the top and walked back out of the AZ. On returning, I used the post holding the summit sign to support the squid pole.

Johnnies Top VK3/VG-013 1565 m (1575 m?) 10 points

The first of 13 contacts from here was Amanda VK3FQSO, who kindly spotted me. Contacts included S2S with Rob VK3EK/p on VK3/VG-121 and Ian VK3TCX/p on VK3/VG-127. Conditions were improving for closer in stations, but still disturbed. I had no joy on 20 m. Given the high winds and odd propagation, I gave up and headed back the way I had come. I doubt that I will head back here again soon!

As I was heading down the range, I was looking at the aspects of a couple of candidate summits. Several looked extremely steep and rough, so I decided to head for a new summit via the Beloka Road and Limestone Road, to McCallums Road.

The start of McCallums Road has signs indicating No Through Road, locked gates ahead, but I decided to check out the road, hoping to get to my target track. Along the way, I could look at the eastern slopes of Mt Leinster VK3/VG-024: it looked steep, rocky and scrubby. Not today thank you – it was too hot to tackle such a climb starting this late in the day.

VK3/VG-035 (unnamed) 1304 m 8 points – Not previously activated

McCallums Road was good all the way to the junction with Teapot Creek Track, where I headed roughly west. The track heads through farmland and has some pot holes to negotiate. You exit the farmland through a closed gate and head into the forest. The track has a short steeper section with a switchback corner, but is in reasonable condition. The key intersection does not have an indication of the name of the required track – Cowell Highway. I am not sure about the “highway” designation, but the surface was reasonable with some rocky sections and only one fallen tree to negotiate.

Having looked at the Google Earth images, I had spotted a small clearing to the south of the summit, which I easily found. I parked there and headed up the hill through what looked like an old log loading area and initially followed some old snig tracks, then wombat trails upwards to the summit area.


The gear on VK3/VG-035

The climb was mainly through regrowth with some older trees, but not too thick. I set up along the edge of a foot pad/wombat track.

On switching on the radio, there was Rob VK3EK/p on VK3/VG-107 – a S2S first up. 5 kHz lower was Ian VK3TCX/p on VK3/VG-122 for another S2S. A further 19 contacts followed, with conditions better than earlier in the day. However, QRN was building. 10 minutes of calling on 20 m after posting a spot resulted in no contacts, so I returned briefly to 40 m to worked the last few stations and then headed back down, using my “nose” to navigate. The return route was a little to the west of the ascent route, but I finished up back quite close to the car without resorting to the GPS.

I then headed back to Teapot Creek Track and headed west. Poor decision – the track gets rougher, steeper and with more fallen timber to negotiate. It would be OK in a 4WD, but returning to McCallums Road and then Limestone Road would be quicker.

Once back on the bitumen, it was back to Benambra and then toward Omeo, with a final diversion.

Mount Sam / Sam Hill VK3/VG-049 1206 m 8 points

From the Omeo Highway, head up Bingo Tice Road to Mount Sam Road. You can drive to the top, which as a couple of towers. I parked near the hut, walked down and back up and set up using the old tank stand beside the hut for the squid pole. During the drive across to Sam Hill, the wet weather to the north was very dark and ominous. I set up on the porch of the hut, giving me shelter from the strong northerly winds, and the rain if it arrived before I was finished.

First up was Matt VK1MA, who posted a spot for me, with warning that it would be short due to the approaching weather. I made a total of 19 contacts, all on 40 m. I missed at least two contacts due to the S8-9+ QRN from the storms. I remained in sunshine….. I gave up after a struggle to make a final contact and there were no further responses to a CQ call.
It was then a case of packing up and heading for home, with a short stop to visit Rob VK3EK en route.

Overall, it was a profitable weekend despite the odd conditions on Sunday. 7 summits activated: 3 x 10 points and 4 x 8 points, all with the winter bonus. All were new Activator summits for me other than Sam Hill. I made 5 new Complete summits. VK3/VG-035 was a new summit for everyone. On top of all the SOTA success, it was great to catch up with family at the 21st celebrations.

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