Brian VK3MCD organised a second gathering of SOTA enthusiasts based at the Peninsula Ski Club at Mount Hotham, held over the last weekend in February. This date clashed once again with the Wyong “Field Day” hamfest, so a few possible attendees from VK1 and VK2 decided against the trip to Hotham. This year it was a self-catering effort, with plans for a group meal out on Saturday evening.
I headed off on Friday, about mid-morning. The drive was uneventful apart from a few sections of roadwork. I stopped for fuel in Bairnsdale, and later a little south of Ensay to eat lunch and to work Paul VK3HN/p on Mt Nelse VK3/VE-004 on SSB. I saw a SSB spot for Tony VK3CAT/p, but could not hear him at the time. Just before I started the drive to Omeo, I sent a SMS to Tony suggesting that we try CW. I received a reply a few minutes later, so pulled over to the side of the road and shut down everything in the car – I have terrible RFI from the car and the GPS and its DC converter. I worked Tony on 7 MHz CW, so VK3/VE-019 was in the log. Thanks Tony!
North to Omeo, and then on toward Benambra and Corryong until I reached Tablelands Road. Left into Tablelands Road and along to Porphyry Hill Track.
VK3/VG-063 Gresson Knob 1044 m 6 points Not previously activated
Porphyry Hill Track has a gate at its Tablelands Road junction – not locked. I was considering aborting, but saw a sign a few metres beyond the gate indicating a firewood collection area. This confirmed my earlier investigations that this was public access. The drive up was steep in places with careful pointing required in a few places, but the little Impreza managed OK, although I did engage low range at the first really steep section. I made it all the way to the summit, making for a short walk from the car to set up using a eucalypt sapling to support the squid pole.
I posted a spot and Adrian VK5FANA was first in the log, followed by Ian VK5CZ, Mick VK3GGG and Nev VK5WG. Several calls yielded no replies, so I changed to 20 m to gain a further 4 contacts: ZL1SKL, ZL1BYZ, VK4QO and VK6NU. With no replies to further calls, I shut down and packed up for the trip back to Omeo and up to Mount Hotham.
After arriving, the social discussions started, even while assisting Brian to erect an OCFD for HF and a 2 m vertical on the lodge balcony. Late afternoon yielded contacts with Paul VK3HN/p on Mt McKay VK3/VE-007, Tony VK3CAT/p on Mt Loch VK3/VE-005 CW with a broken iambic paddle operated as a straight key and Allen VK3ARH/p on Ulrich Peak on 2 m FM, but only after I drove up to the Loch car park – there was too much blockage at the lodge.
Friday evening was quite social, especially after everyone had eaten dinner. Various options were discussed, with groupings unsure when everyone retired. Further discussions occurred in the morning over breakfast. Glenn VK3YY was planning to have a look at The Twins Track, hoping to get to The Twins and VK3/VE-023. Brian VK3MCD was looking at trying to get to Mt Bindi to the southeast of Omeo. Ron VK3AFW was planning to head to Mt Phipps and Mt Birregun.
Saturday 25 February
I decided to join Brian, along with Paul VK3HN. We headed off to Omeo and on toward Mt Nugong. On the approach to the summit we stopped to look at “The Washington Winch”, a steam driven winch used to haul logs up out of the valley below using steel cables and pulleys which was imported into Victoria in the 1920s and used into the 1960s. The Washington Winch is of historical and scientific significance.
Mt Nugong VK3/VG-018 1482 m 8 points
Mt Nugong is a drive-up summit, with a solar powered communications site on the summit. We set up on the summit using one leg of the sign to support the squidpole and Brian’s OCFD antenna. First in my log was VK3YY/p on Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021 – a great start, a S2S contact! Within 10 minutes the summit was qualified, including the time spent in passing the microphone around to ensure that everyone made enough contacts to qualify. 40 m propagation was poor, with poor NVIS.
We packed up and headed around to Nunniong Road, then north to Sawpit Road. We then followed an old logging track (I think it may have been Granite Flat Link Track) to Escarpment Track, then north to Mount Bindi Track.
Mount Bindi VK3/VG-017 1484 m 8 points Not previously activated
I had looked at this summit previously and had discussed an earlier attempt to access the summit with another amateur. I had thought that a real 4WD vehicle would be needed and had not attempted to find a way to the summit before my Forester died. Therefore, it was a clear choice when Brian suggested trying to get to this one the night before! In the end, access was OK, and an easier route to the summit is likely to be possible, but not yet confirmed.
Nunniong Road and Escarpment Track are two of many in the area subject to seasonal road closure, so the most likely time to be able to access is during summer and autumn. Nunniong Road is reasonably good, okay for a 2WD vehicle with care. The southern end of Escarpment Track looks very rough and narrow. When we reached it further north, it was a better track. Sawpit Road was also OK for the section that we travelled, and looked okay at the northern end. Therefore, a possible approach route may be Nunniong Road to Sawpit Road, north to Sawpit Link Track, south on Escarpment Track to Mt Bindi Track and in to the summit. Mt Bindi Track was a little rough – 4WD recommended. Retrace your approach route back to Nunniong Road to exit.
We set up on the edge of the track, less than 80 m from the nominal summit location and clearly inside the activation zone. Brian, as driver, had the privilege of starting the activation. My first contact was with Alan VK3FABT back at the lodge on 40 m SSB. I had the required qualifying contacts with other stations via 2 m FM, including Tony VK3CAT/p and Allen VK3ARH/p, both on Mount Feathertop VK3/VE-002. Tony and Allen had walked out in about 3 hours – a good effort.
We packed up, with Brian having had a telephone call about an incident concerning Ron VK3AFW: his car had overheated and he was stranded in Omeo. We advised Ron that we would pick him up after doing our next activation, given that we were so far east of Omeo. Brian wanted to bag Mt Nunniong.
We headed back to Escarpment Track, then north to Nunniong Plains Track. We passed the end of Sawpit Road and continued on. We followed this across rough country to reach Nunniong Road. It may have been quicker to go back along Sawpit Road – a greater distance but perhaps faster?
Mount Nunniong VK3/VG-011 1617 m 10 points
I had activated this summit previously and we approached using the same route: Nunniong Road north to Jam Tin Flat Track, Diggers Hole Road to the junction with Blue Shirt Track. According to the GPS, the track junction is just inside the AZ. To be sure, travel down Blue Shirt Track to the first high point – clearly inside the 1600 m contour.
Two contacts on 7 MHz and two on 2 m FM had the summit qualified. Given the time required to exit the area to pick up Ron in Omeo, we called it quits given the poor HF propagation.
We followed the GPS directions back to Omeo: retrace back to the start of Jam Tin Flat Track, then north along Nunniong Road to Limestone Road – including travelling through the AZ of Brumby Hill VK3/VG-012. Then travel west back to Benambra and Omeo. We picked up Ron and headed off to the next summit.
Mount Birregun VK3/VT-020 1363 m 8 points
The approach is straight forward: head towards Hotham on the Great Alpine Road, then south toward Cassilis. Then follow the signs for Dargo: Upper Livingston Road, then Birregun Road.
We again set up with Brian’s OCFD plus 2 m. I qualified the summit on 2 m FM, mainly with contacts back to the group at Hotham. Ron had his first completed activation for the day…
We loaded up and headed back to Mt Phipps.
Mount Phipps VK3/VG-015 1536 m 10 points
We approached from Birregun Road via Mount Phipps Track. We activated the summit via 2 m FM, given how poor HF had been all day. I suspect that Ron was more than happy to have an activated summit in the log so quickly.
We retraced our route back to Birregun Road, then south to Dinner Plain Track. This was initially in very good condition, but deteriorated to 4WD later on. We followed it all the way through to Dinner Plain, then back to Hotham on the Great Alpine Road.
Once back at the lodge, it was a quick pick up of some items, then up to the summit. Brian had arranged access direct to the top, where we set up for some late afternoon nibbles and drinks. Some chose to set up stations to activate Hotham. I decided to not activate at this time, planning to visit the summit during the bonus season.
After the summit, we headed back down to The General for dinner. Only one issue – they lost my order and my meal did not arrive until about 2130, after Alan had raised the issue with staff and they followed up….. It was back to the lodge for some discussions and then off to bed.
Sunday 26 February
Sunday was more varied. Some were planning to activate summits on their way home, whilst we had two groups planning to activate summits and return to Hotham. I joined Ken VK3KIM and Ron VK3AFW for a trip to the south west.
Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015 1717 m 10 points
The route out to this summit is an iconic 4WD track, so it was not surprising that we found about 8 4WD vehicles lined up on the summit when we arrived: they had driven up to enjoy the views in the early morning following sunrise: the sun rising above cloud-filled valleys. By time we arrived, the low clouds had mostly evaporated.
We set up just north of the trig, with a 40/20 inverted V and a 2 m vertical on separate masts. My first contact was Tony VK3XV/p on Huon Hill VK3/VE-237 in Wodonga Regional Park. A string of contacts followed: S2S with Allen VK3ARH/p on Albion Point VK3/VE-080; Tony VK3CAT/p, Paul VK3HN/p and Brain on Mt Tabletop VK3/VE-028; Glenn VK3YY/p on The Horn VK3/VE-014, and several others. Amongst the contacts were S2S by me and Ron with Brian on Tabletop on 23 cm FM – a first SOTA 23 cm contact for Ron and Brian.
We packed up and headed back down the track to Basalt North Track, then south.
Basalt Knob VK3/VE-039 1512 m 10 points
We drove up and parked at the edge of the helipad, then set up just inside the AZ. This time we used my gear. On switch on, we heard Allen VK3ARH/p calling CQ on 40 m CW – where the rig had last been used. I quickly completed a S2S with Allen, followed by Ron working Allen. A few minutes later, I worked Glenn VK3YY/p on The Hump VK3/VE-019 for another S2S. Shortly after, I worked Brian VK3MCD/p as his group were walking out from Mt Tabletop. The contact with Brian qualified the summit for me. The others made further contacts before we had lunch prior to moving on.
White Timber VK3/VE-060 1375 m 8 points
This summit was the main reason to join Ken and Ron the day. The approach from Basalt Knob was relatively easy: Ritchie Road was in good shape and open on this occasion. We reached White Timber Spur South Track and negotiated the deep gutter with a couple of scrapes. The track was serious 4WD and we gave up after a few hundred metres when we reached a deeply rutted and steep section. We parked off track and loaded up my rucksack of gear to climb up to the AZ. The whole area is regrowth, quite thick off the track.
First in the log was Allen VK3ARH/p on VK3/VE-030 for a S2S. 40 m propagation had improved and we worked several more chasers on 40 m SSB. Once we had all qualified and had no further callers to CQs, we shut down and headed back to the car.
Once back on Ritchie Road, we followed it out to the Dargo High Plains Road: excellent condition most of the way, but care needed with two creek crossings. At this time of the year, many 2WD vehicles could use this approach, retracing their route to exit. We then headed north, back to Blue Rag Range Track.
Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021 1679 m 10 points
The final approach is a little rough, with deep ruts to negotiate, then a mess in the saddle. Once through the saddle, follow the track up until it flattens out to ensure you are in the AZ. We set up on 40 m and quickly had four VK5 stations in the log plus a couple of “locals” on 2 m FM from near the lodge on Hotham.
We then packed up and returned to the lodge for some nibbles before Brian, Ken and myself headed down to Dinner Plain for dinner.
Monday 27 February 2017
Those remaining at Hotham were planning to head off the mountain and eventually to home. Ron and Ken planned a couple of summits close to Omeo and then in to confer with the RACV mechanic and hear his assessment of the Outback. I decided to head for Mansfield, via Myrtleford and then across country. I stopped at a bakery in Mansfield for lunch, then south to Jamieson and then toward Licola. En-route I stopped to listen for Ron and Ken on VK3/VG-064 but could only hear chasers.
Mount Skene VK3/VE-031 1565 m 10 points
The high point in the road across the top is clearly inside the AZ. I set up on the edge of the road, using a sign post to support the squid pole. I managed to post a spot for 40 m SSB and was soon rewarded with a call from Gerard VK2IO/m. Several of the regular callers followed, with 10 completed contacts in 20 minutes. I heard Geoff VK3SQ call me, but he was unable to hear my responses, even after I added the 40 W amplifier. Sorry Geoff.
I packed up and continued toward Licola.
Mount Shillinglaw VK3/VE-068 1301 m 8 points
A Shire of Mansfield tractor with a scrub “mower” attachment was parked at the junction with the Alpine Walking Track. I parked behind it and loaded up with the pack for the approach walk of about 1.8 km with about 130 m climb. The afternoon was quite warm, slowing progress a little. The track is becoming encroached with regrowth from the edges, but quite easy to follow. Watch for diversions around large fallen logs.
During the climb I some plants with lovely purple berries – I guess that I should do some research to identify the plant species. There were other plants with bright red berries.
I found a spot without close-by ant nests – there are many about! Tony VK7LTD answered my CQ calls on 40 m SSB and kindly spotted me. By time Col VK3LED called me, the Kandos groups had started up on 7093, so we moved down to 7085. Col then re-spotted me. Over the next 20 minutes, I had 13 contacts in the log. I was about the pack most of the gear in the rucksack when the phone beeped – coverage was very marginal, so I was somewhat surprised. It was a SMS from Rik VK3EQ that he was on a summit. I quickly reassembled the station – luckily I had not yet dropped the antenna. I then joined the dogpile to work Rik on VK7/SW-171 for a S2S. I listened briefly after completing the contact, then packed up and headed back to the car.
I then resumed the trip toward Licola. I checked the watch as I crossed the Mansfield/Wellington Shire boundary and decided on one last summit for the weekend.
Conners Plain VK3/VT-022 1305 m 8 points
After parking the vehicle, I climbed up onto the plateau and set up using a stump for a support. I managed to post a spot and called on 7085. Andrew VK2UH was first in the log, followed by Gerard VK2IO/m, Nev VK5WG, Paul VK5PAS and John VK4TJ. With no further responses to CQs on 40, I switched to 20 m and posted a spot. I was rewarded with calls from Oliver DK7TX and Ogi 9A7W. Excellent contacts, as I was only running 5 W. Further calls gained no responses, so I shut down and headed back to the car and resumed the trip home.
I arrived back at home at about 2025 local, with the fuel warning light showing for the last 30 km or so. Lots of kilometres covered, with some terrific scenery and 3 summits activated.
It was a productive weekend, with terrific camaraderie. It was also highly productive for the SOTA scores.
13 summits activated for 114 Activator points
27 summits chased for 238 Chaser points
148 S2S points
3 new Activator Unique summits taking my total to 250 Uniques activated
2 new Chaser Uniques
2 new Complete summits.