A dull damp day on Eskdale Spur

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Due to family commitments, I was in Wodonga for a few days. On Monday afternoon, Rik VK3EQ posted to the SOTA_Australia Yahoo group that he intended to activate a couple of summits en route to Mount Bogong. Rik’s basic plan was a couple of summits Tuesday late morning and afternoon, then to camp at Mitta Mitta prior to the start of the ascent of Mount Bogong on Wednesday. I sent a text message to Rik asking if he wanted company. Rik called shortly after and we discussed options.

Rik, John VK3JSN and myself met on Tuesday late in the morning in Wodonga and discussed options. The weather was very grey and damp, with forecasts of cold, wet and windy conditions, with snow down to around 1000 m. We decided to look at a series of 6 point summits on the northern half of Eskdale Spur.

We drove in two vehicles to Lockhart Gap and I parked my vehicle. We transferred some of the gear from Rik’s car to mine and loaded up my pack into Rik’s car, then headed south along Eskdale Spur Road. We climbed up the track in the mist and cloud, passing McGrath Track, the access route to VK3/VE-241. We continued south, noting the parking spot for Lockhart, passing around the west of VK3/VE-144 and continued on. Along the way we had to stop several times to clear fallen debris from the track. We spent some time using the chainsaw at a couple of spots, with trees and/or large limbs across the track: Rik used the chainsaw and John and I cleared away the cut sections.

VK3/VE-130 Wild Horse Hill Range 1034 m 6 points

We finally reached the junction of Eskdale Spur Track and Murphys Track to park the vehicle, only a few metres vertically below the edge of the Activation Zone (AZ).

I suggested that we use my gear, partly as my pack was on top in the back of the car, plus Rik and John were going to heading up to Mt Bogong, thus they could conserve their battery power. We climbed up the side of the summit until we were clearly inside the AZ and set up with the squid pole tied to a large log. Set up was a little quicker than normal, as John & Rik each unwound and strung up one half of the dipole. John decided not to activate the summit.

We had not posted Alerts and had no mobile phone coverage at our operating site, so I simply started calling on 7.090 MHz. After a few calls, Col VK3LED answered. He worked both VK3PF and VK3EQ. It took a few minutes to receive another answer to my calls, this time by Nev VK5WG who posted a spot for us after working us both. Next up was Scott VK7NWT, followed by Rick VK4RF/VK4HA. Paul VK5PAS worked us, then Gerard VK2IO. The cold air was having its effects on us. With no responses to a “Final call” CQ, we switched off and packed up, descending to the car and retracing our access route.

A new unique summit for both of us, and a new complete for me.

VK3/VE-144 956 m 6 points

We parked on the side of the track to the northwest of the summit and started our climb toward the summit. The approach was somewhat scrubby, but there were plenty of animal tracks making for reasonable progress as we climbed about 120 m vertical until a little below the summit, clearly inside the AZ according to the GPS. John continued on to the actual summit. Up his return, he reported excellent views for 360 degrees, all of the inside of the cloud which enveloped the entire hill.

We set up the dipole using a sapling to support the centre point this time. Just over one hour after working him at the last summit, Gerard VK2IO answered our third or fourth CQ call. Relatively quickly we managed to work Nev VK5WG and Paul VK5PAS, but it took another 10 minutes of calling to raise our fourth contact, Tony VK7LTD. A “final calls” CQ was answered with static, so we packed up and headed back down to the vehicle.

Another new unique summit for both of us, and another new complete for me.

VK3/VE-135 Lockhart 1004 m 6 points

We parked the car near the junction of the track and an old track which is heavily overgrown at its junction with Eskdale Spur Road. The old track is visible on the 2005 1:25000 series map, but does not show on Forest Explorer.


Lockhart map from 2005

The first couple hundred metres was a case of navigating through the scrub as best we could, until we came across the old track, which we then followed north until it started to become overgrown by blackberries. By this time, it was raining and sleeting on us, with temperature having fallen.

We headed up toward the spur line, stopping briefly at one point for me to pull on my rain jacket. We continued on up the spur until we were well inside the AZ. We again set up using a small tree to support the dipole.

It was wet! I used my overpants to attempt to keep most of the rain off the radio. It was difficult to keep the rain off the logbook. A couple of calls raised Nev VK5WG, followed quickly by Tony VK7LTD and Paul VK5PAS. It took another 3 minutes of calling to raise a fourth contact, this time Steve VK7CW. Given the rain, temperature and increasing wind, we pulled the plug with just the 4 contacts each.

We then headed back down roughly in the direction from which we had come, picking up the old track a little earlier. The last 200 metres were again difficult navigating through the scrub, fallen timber and rocky sections. But we emerged from the scrub right beside the car.

We loaded the gear into the car and started heading north. As the afternoon was well advanced and we were all a little tired and wet, we were discussing our options. Were we going to attempt to activate VK3/VE-241? Once we reached the start of McGrath Track, our decision was quickly confirmed: there was a tree of almost a metre in diameter across the track only 100 metres up from the junction! As the tree was beyond the capability of Rik’s small chainsaw and would take considerable effort to clear even if we had a longer bar on the chainsaw, we continued on to Lockhart Gap.

Back at my vehicle, we transferred gear as appropriate.

It had been a damp afternoon in dull light, being in the cloud for most of the afternoon. We had some exercise and had manged to activate three summits, all 6-pointers. Two new uniques for me and three for Rik. John simply enjoyed the exercise.

We said our goodbyes and thanked each other for the afternoon of radio fun, bushwalking and camaraderie. We then headed our separate ways – Rik and John south to Mitta Mitta for the night, and back to Wodonga for me. Overall, a good day of SOTA activity, despite the weather conditions.

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