2018 Hotham SOTA Summit – the trip up

I had been to the two previous Hotham SOTA gatherings organised by Brian VK3MCD. I was more than happy to commit to the 2018 edition.

Thursday 1 February 2018

I had a few tasks to complete in the morning and headed off from home early in the afternoon. I drove to Bairnsdale and dropped in for a very quick catch up with Rob VK3EK. After a quick exchange of greetings and a bit of information exchange, I resumed the trip by heading to Bruthen and then onto Engineers Road.

Mount Sugarloaf VK3/VG-081 889 m 4 points

About 32 km up Engineers Road you will find the start of Sugarloaf Tower Track. Less than 100 m along the track is a locked gate, meaning a 2 km walk to the summit. A couple of maps show vehicle tracks heading off the summit to the west, so I returned to Engineers Road and climbed to the junction with Deptford Mount Sugarloaf Road. There was no obvious track heading toward the summit. A short distance down Deptford Mount Sugarloaf Road a found the southern track from the summit, with very large steep earth mounds, clearly placed as part of “track rehabilitation”. I returned to the road junction, parked the vehicle and loaded up the SOTA pack. I found the rehabilitated start of the old track and started the steep climb towards the summit: about 100 m climb over about 600 m horizontal distance. Fallen timber, some steep spoon drains and some regrowth added a little to the challenge. Part way up the track I took a short break to look up the route, with another steep spoon drain about 30 m ahead. Just as I stopped, I heard a rustle in the litter on the track just in front of me. Looking down, I saw a snake less than 60 cm from my feet, fortunately facing away from me. We looked at each other for many seconds, with neither of us moving. I even reached for my ‘phone and took a photo….

SugarloafSnakeS

The local encountered during the climb

After taking the photo, I took a large step to my right. The “bendy stick” moved to my left into the thicker undergrowth off the track. I resumed the climb, with better (I hope) scanning of the close in terrain ahead. After about 280 m horizontally I reached a track junction, about 60 m vertical up from the vehicle. The remaining track was a gentler gradient, but with several fallen trees across the track. I emerged onto the summit clearing to see a small radio communications facility with a solar array for power. I spotted a steel pipe standing just south east of the comms facility – a suitable support for a squid pole.

SugarloafSummitMast

The comms facility on the summit

I started to set up, but the squid pole collapsed as I was running out the dipole. Not a simple vertical collapse: the upper sections had broken from the lower two sections. Closer inspection revealed a very significant vertical crack dropping down from the top of section 2. I made a field repair and finally had the antenna in position. I spotted myself before I had switched on the radio. On switch on, it was obvious that the regular afternoon net was operational on 7.093. I made a quick call and announced that I was going down in frequency.

In 20 minutes of operating, I had 11 contacts in the log. I switched to 20 m SSB for contacts to ZL1, VK2 and VK1. I had an offer of a CW contact, so I remained on the same nominal frequency and made the first contact. A few minutes later, I had 5 contacts in the log. I then swapped back to 40 m, but on CW, picking up another station. Back up to SSB for 2 more contacts and I saw that one of the VK1 operators was on a summit, so it was back down the band to work Bill VK1FWBK on Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037. Back to voice to chase Phil VK2JDL/1 on VK1/AC-031. A little while later I was called by Wade VK1FWBD/p on VK1/AC-040. Time was advancing and I was about to switch off when I had a call from Warren VK3BYD. After that contact, I switched off, packed up and headed back down to the vehicle. 29 contacts, including 7 CW and three S2S. A new Unique and Complete.

I then headed roughly north towards Omeo for the night, stopping for a meal at Swifts Creek. It was then a short trip to Omeo to my accommodation for the night.

Friday 2 February 2018

I was up before 7 am, and headed downstairs for breakfast. I was on the road shortly after 0800, heading to Benambra. From Benambra, it was north on Benambra Corryong Road, heading for Sassafras Gap. The warning signs were correct – watch for logging trucks!

At Sassafras Gap, I turned onto Eustace Gap Road. The road surface was generally very good. 12.6 km along, I reached the target track: Kings Spur Track.

Toke Gibbo Hill VK3/VG-028 1364 m 8 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619

This summit has only been activated once previously – by Rhett VK3WE back in 2013. He made 15 contacts on that activation. I was able to make a contact with Rhett that day, so this trip was planned to be a Complete.

The summit is about 4.4 km along Kings Spur Track. The track has significant regrowth in the centre of the track, up to around half a metre high. There were also several spoon drains to negotiate, some of which you could not see over the rim due to the regrowth. All went well apart from the occasional brush with encroaching scrub.

You cannot miss the summit, which has a sign “Toke Gibbo” just off the track. I parked a little beyond and used the signpost to support the squid pole.

TokeGibboSignS

Summit sign at Toke Gibbo

I switched on the gear and quickly worked Pail VK3HN/p on The Hump VK3/VE-019. I moved down the band and worked Compton VK3HRX/3 on Mt Hope VK3/VG-014 for a new Unique for me. I found a clear spot at 7.095 and started calling. I worked 11 more on 40 m before moving 20 m SSB for 3 contacts on SSB, then 5 contacts on CW followed by one final SSB contact. A total of 23 contacts were made for the new Unique and Complete. Many of the operators were also gaining a new Unique. All contacts were made before UTC rollover, were technically on 1 February.

I packed up and retraced my route back towards Sassafras Gap.

VK3/VE-053 1405 m 8 points Not previously activated

NB: I gave the incorrect summit reference on the day. I used VK3/VG-053 rather than VK3/VE-053. Sorry to all involved. The bonus for the effort of removing the contact from the SOTA database and re-entering it will be an additional 2 points.

I had looked carefully at the maps and satellite imagery near this summit. There is no indication of a track closer than about one kilometre from the summit. The obvious lead in approach track is about 3.8 km from Sassafras Gap. It looks a little rough near the start, but I took it carefully. After about 2 km, the obvious track starts to head downhill to the south of the summit, with several large trees across the track visible only a short distance along from the start of the descent. There looked to be a track continuing along the ridge line, with a dead wattle across the track. As I got closer to the dead tree, I saw that I could skirt around the dead tree, and then it was simple to follow the track as far as possible. I needed to negotiate some fallen trees, crossing some which were significant little bumps. The track actually continued beyond the summit, so I did not get the anticipated exercise. I tossed a line over a tree branch and set up the dipole.

MapVE_053

SOTA Mapping view of summit area

On switching on, I heard Phil VK3BHR/p calling from Mt Hotham VK3/VE-006. A S2S contact to start the activation – excellent.

I announced that I would move down the band and was quickly called by Gerard VK2IO, who posted a Spot for me. Next was Allen VK3ARH/m, on his way to join the group at Hotham for the weekend. A steady stream of contacts saw me with 10 in the log within 15 minutes. With no more callers, I stopped to grab some food and have a drink after I announced that I was going QRT. Just as I was about to finish the pack up, I heard Compton VK2HRX/3 calling CQ. I quickly reconnected everything and called Compton – the antenna was still up. Success – another S2S and a new Chaser Unique. Compton was on Mt Gibbo VK3/VG-004. A total of 11 contacts in the log, all on 40 m SSB. I quickly packed up and headed back to Eustace Gap Road and Sassafras Gap. At Sassafras Gap I turned left for the short trip to Wild Boar Track.

Mount Sassafras VK3/VE-029 1588 m 10 points

The summit is about 8.2 km along from the main road; with track a little rough in places. There is a nice clearing near the trig with plenty of room for the 40 m dipole. As I was travelling along Wild Boar Track, I announced to Compton that I was about 3 km from the summit. Compton replied that he would wait on Mt Gibbo until I was set up.

Compton called me at 0124 Z and we chatted for several minutes before he started packing up. I started to call on the same frequency. I quickly had 5 calls in the log. Further calls brought no responses, so I packed up and started the return trip.

After crossing the Gibbo River, I was rather surprised as I came around a corner: in front of me was a fully loaded log truck surrounded by a dense dust cloud. Only problem for me was that the truck was close to the deep gutter on MY side of the road. I headed as close as I dared to the edge of the gutter whilst rapidly slowing. Thankfully, the truck and I avoided each other. I sat waiting for about a minute for the dust cloud to begin to disperse. A bit of unexpected excitement…

The rest of the journey to Omeo was uneventful. I topped up the fuel tank in Omeo and started to do some shopping. I saw Compton waiting to fuel up, so approached on foot and greeted him. We kept it brief – we had plenty of time to talk later. I finished my shopping and headed up to Hotham.

I saw several “incognito” cars as I approached Hotham – cars with camouflage, obviously development vehicles undergoing testing. Compton arrived only a couple of minutes behind me to the base of the stairs to the lodge. We drove up to the Corral car park and headed down Higgi Drive and then parked in front of the building. We found the front door and the after entering the access code, started to unload the gear.

We then moved the vehicles back down to the road.

It was then simply a matter of waiting for everyone else to arrive over the coming hours.

The 2018 edition of the Annual Hotham SOTA Summit had begun.

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