The trip to Wodonga for Christmas 2019

22 December 2019

With family based in northeast Victoria, it has become usual for me to travel to stay with Mum in Wodonga for the Christmas – New Year period. I few things combined to prevent me travelling up in mid-December as I have done for the last couple of years. With weather conditions and fire activity in the hill country, I left my departure until the Sunday prior to Christmas Day.

On the Saturday morning, I noted that the Great Alpine Road had been closed: a dry cold front had passed across Victoria on Friday night and the strong gusty winds had impacted the fires in East Gippsland. The fires were in steep terrain and had been creating their own local weather. With strong northerly winds in previous days, the change to a south-westerly pattern caused the fires to change direction, placing the Great Alpine Road passing through the narrow, steep-sided Tambo River valley between Bruthen and Ensay under direct threat. I had been watching the VicEmergency website for most of the previous week, maintaining an awareness of the situation in the area. Fires had been burning north of Bruthen and towards Buchan for several weeks. This road closure settled the question: my first route option was eliminated.

I considered my other route options. I wanted to be able to activate either Parks or SOTA as a break during the trip, as is my usual practice.

Options included travelling to Licola and then to Jamieson via the Jamieson-Licola Road, which would give me the option of activating Mt Shillinglaw and Mt Skene. The Jamieson-Licola Road is closed from near Connors Plain through to the Mt Sunday Road junction from early June through to the end of October. The only way to legally travel the road in the closure period is on an approved 4WD Club trip with an appropriate permit. I seriously considered this option, but as the song lyrics say, it is “a long and winding road”. Plus the route is relatively rarely travelled, so I ruled out this option – I did not want to be in a remote region with the country so dry.

I made the final decision late on Saturday afternoon. There were no Total Fire Bans in place in Victoria, removing one consideration. Warren VK3BYD had posted an Alert for Mt Nelse VK3/VE-004 at 0100 UTC Sunday. This gave me target – aim to be on a summit by 0100.

I was a little slower getting organised on Sunday morning than expected. I was on the road before 0900, but needed to stop for fuel. I headed towards Warragul and then cut across the hills to Healesville, towards Yarra Glen and on to Yea.

Warren rang me as I was driving through Healesville – he had arrived on his summit early. I advised him of my ETA at my first target. We were discussing options when I lost coverage and the call dropped out. Warren would set up and activate. He would assess the situation when he had the summit qualified and had worked the bands he wished to use.

I travelled on to Yarck, onto Yarck Road and then Terip Road. I would my way up to Caveat Road and then south to Black Range Road.

VK3/VN-032 Black Range 680 m 2 points Not yet activated

This summit was one of the replacement summits added on 1 November 2019, replacing Mt Concord further south along the range.

The summit is located on private property. Black Range Road crosses a knoll enclosed by a 660 m contour just to the west of the summit. Careful examination of the topographic maps plus analysis by using the flooding technique on Google Earth showed that the saddle between the knoll and the summit remains inside the Activation Zone (AZ), so I decided that the knoll was probably a valid site. Once on site, I quickly assessed the saddle depth and concluded the original analysis was valid.

Next I sent an SMS to Warren that I had arrived and was setting up. Whilst I was getting the antenna up, Warren replied, saying to call him on 7.032 MHz when ready and that he would then move to a different frequency.

I set up and found Warren making a contact. When it was completed, I sent my callsign. Warren was soon in the log, with signals fading towards the end. So my first contact from the new summit was a Summit to Summit. Thanks for waiting Warren!

After logging the contact, I sent “QRL?” and started calling. I soon had Ian VK5CZ, Gerard VK2IO, Tony VK3CAT and VK3APC, John VK4TJ and Garry VK2GAZ in the log. I was about to move to SSB when I had a call from John VK5FLEA. After working John, I sent “?” a couple of times and then moved to SSB. The first contact was again John VK5FLEA. Next was Bill VK1MCW who had just returned home and had thus missed me on CW. I spent several minutes calling, but had no further callers. I tried 80 m SSB with no callers.

I shut down and packed up. I returned to Yarck to purchase some lunch at the Bakery.

I travelled to Merton and onto Merton-Strathbogie Range to climb into the Strathbogie Range and on to Boho South. I took Chapmans Road north to D Road, where I encountered one of the “STOP Private Plantation” signs.

Much of the old pine plantation in Victoria has been leased by HVP Plantations – another example of privatising of former government assets in Victoria. After my trips in early November, I explored the HVP Plantations web site. After an initial read of the relevant pages, I left the website. A couple of weeks later, I returned to the website to re-read the material. I then completed the online form for their Visitor Induction and submitted the form, and then completed an application for a community access permit. I cited my reason for access as “hiking”, given that the final approach to a SOTA summit activation site must be by non-motorised means. I submitted the application. Within a couple of hours, I received an email indicating that the application had been approved. With the application approved, I could now legally enter the plantation, as it was one of those listed in my application.

I travelled along D Road to D4 Road and then took the first main track to the right. This lead me to a short steep rocky section, but I had noted another small track to the right just before the rocky step. I reversed and followed the smaller track and was soon at the start of a rocky climb to the summit. Although other 4WD vehicles had obviously climbed to the summit, I found a spot to park and loaded up the pack.

Mount Separation VK3/VE-198 734 m 4 points Not yet activated

I climbed to the bent pole which is all that remains of the trig. I took some photos and then hunted out spot in the shade.


Looking across to Mt Wombat (L of centre) from Mt Separation

The sun was hot and there was no cloud cover. I found a spot with some shade and set up the station. I spotted myself for 40 m CW and soon had four stations in the log: VK2IO, VK4TJ, VK3ARH and VK5FLEA. With no further callers, I moved to 40 m SSB and only worked VK1XP, VK7QP and VK2CDS. I moved up to 20 m CW and worked ZL1TM, ZL1BYZ and ZL1IFB. I decided to pack up and move to the next summit.

I returned to the car, drove back out to D Road and around to the junction with D1 Road. D1 Road was shown on my maps as A10 Road, so initially caused a slight confusion. I was sure I was at the right place, so drove south to a cross road just before D1 Road drops steeply off the summit.

Here I took the track on the right and slowly navigated around the rocks to a high point where a track led hard left to climb onto one of the summit knolls. I parked here and grabbed the gear to climb onto the knoll.

VK3/VE-190 Mount Buggaree 766 m 4 points Not yet activated

The 1:25000 mapping shows the summit as being on the northern most of four knolls. All four knolls are above the 750 m contour and thus inside the AZ.

I found a shady spot close to top of the second knoll from the southern end. I spotted myself and was soon set up. I started on 40 m CW, working VK2IO, VK4TJ and ZL1TM. With no further callers, I moved to 40 m SSB and worked three stations: VK7QP, VK3ECH and VK3ZK. I then moved to 20 m SSB to work ZL1TM, ZL1BYZ and VK2GAZ. With no further callers, I decided to close and to attempt to access the next target.

I drove back out to D1 Road, north to D Road and worked my way around to Mt Lindsay Track, which has a Seasonal Closure gate which was open. I made my way up the recently resurfaced dusty track, negotiating several large spoon drains. 4WD recommended, especially after rain. I was soon parked just below the summit itself.

Mount Lindsay VK3/VE-206 699 m 2 points Not yet activated

I believe that this summit has an incorrect height. Just south of the summit, the maps show a spot height of 699 m, possibly the basis of the allocated height with SOTA. However, the official topographic maps show that the summit is surrounded by a 700 m contour. So I believe that the height needs to increase to at least 700 m and the points increased to 4.

There is a cleared area on the southeast side of the track just below the summit proper. I simply tossed a line over tree branch and set up away from the car, only about 2 m vertical below the summit. The scrub was dry and the ground dusty.


Looking across to the summit of VK3/VE-206 from the operating site

I was soon calling on 40 m CW and worked VK3CAT, VK4TJ, VK2IO/m, ZL1BYZ and VK3ANL. A second station was also calling as I was working Tony VK3CAT – I suspect that it was Andrei ZL1TM and I called him once finishing working Tony, but there was no reply. My suspicions were confirmed the following day, when I checked the SOTA database – Andrei had logged a contact, even though he was not in my log. Sorry for the mix up Andrei.

I moved up to 40 m SSB and worked VK3ANL, Zl2IFB, VK5WG and VK3PWG. Nick VK3ANL noted that when he first called, his radio was connected to his 6 m vertical antenna. He then swapped to his main HF antenna, which explained why his CW signal jumped from 559 to 599…. On SSB, Nick was 59+20.

Time was getting on – my last contact was logged at 0637 UTC. I packed up and returned to the car and retraced my access route to B1 Road and then worked my way out to the northeast, reaching Jenson Road, Ethell Road, Lima Road and on to the Midland Highway. I travelled north towards Benalla and then onto the Hume Highway for the trip to Wodonga.

During the day, propagation was highly variable. Before the final summit, I worked no Melbourne stations on 40 m SSB or on 80 m SSB. There was often strong QSB.

NB: I noticed that I spotted with the incorrect reference. I spotted with VK3/VE-209, but the correct reference is VK3/VE-206. I have tried to contact all that I worked, plus posted messages to the OZSOTA group and to the SOTA Reflector.

Thanks to all who chased me.

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