Sunday 29 December 2019
It was to be another hot day in Wodonga, with the temperature predicted to reach the high 30s. I decided to head out to activate a couple of summits on the Great Dividing Range south of Buckland. Once again, temperatures on the hills were forecast to be at least 10 degrees cooler. The approach was straight forward: I headed to Myrtleford, Porepunkah and south to Buckland. Travel south on Buckland River Road, taking care on the very dusty, narrow and winding road. Quite a few vehicles were encountered coming out to the north as I was heading south, many with campervans behind. I suspect many had been listening to warnings from authorities to be out of the bush before the following day, which had already been declared a day of Total Fire Ban across all of Victoria. Hot temperatures and strong winds were expected on Monday.
I finally swung left onto Selwyn Creek Road and then turned onto Mount Murray Logging Road to climb to Twins Jeep Track on the main ridge.
At the junction, I found that Twins Jeep Track to the west was closed. That affected my plans for later in the day….. I mentally noted the closure. Interestingly, the closure was not evident on the VicRoads traffic site or app.
I continued along Twins Jeep Track and then climbed Mount Murray Track to the parking area just before the locked gate.
Mount Murray VK3/VE-025 1640 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
There are three knolls within the Activation Zone for this summit: a small one (1628 m) to the east of the parking area, one immediately west, over which the MVO Wongungurra Track climbs on its way to the third knoll to the south west, which has a small rock cairn and is the true summit. All three knolls and the saddles between are encompassed by the 1620 m contour.
I set up my station close to the locked gate, where I could sit in a little shade provided by a snow gum.
I spotted myself and started called early on the UTC day on 40 m CW. The next 11 minutes yielded six contacts. Next was Andrew VK3ARR on Mount Warrenheip VK3/VC-019 in VKFF-2402. I had noted that Andrew had spotted, as had Soren ZL1SKL. After working Andrew, I had two more chasers on CW. I then moved to 20 m SSB to see if Soren was still on his newest spot frequency, posted several minutes earlier. After listening for a couple of minutes, I called to see if he was simply listening….. Success – Soren came straight back to the call and was in the log: S2S to ZL1/WK-134.
I moved down to 20 m CW and soon had John ZL1BYZ and Andrei ZL1TM in the log, but no other callers. I then moved to 40 m SSB for two contacts and finally to 80 m SSB for a further two contacts. I then shut down and packed up.
Whilst packing up, I considered my options. A couple were walking back from the true summit and asked what I was doing. I explained both SOTA and WWFF and pointed out some of the nearby SOTA summits. I took the chance to look at the new summit VK3/VE-245 about 3.7 km away.
The approach to VK3/VE-245 would normally involve a scrub bash of about 700 m along a ridge line and over a knoll from Twins Jeep Track. With the Twins Jeep Track closed to vehicles, an additional two kilometre walk plus 140 m vertical climb would be required from the road closure sign. The day was feeling hot (about 24 C, but with blazing sun and not much breeze), so I decided against my original plan of activating the new summit and then possibly VK3/VE-066 and perhaps Mount Selwyn VK3/VE-049. Whilst I could still activate the latter two summits, it would require driving back down to Selwyn Creek Road and then climbing back up to the ridge line. Instead, I decided to head east towards Mount Hotham.
Twins Jeep Track required the usual slow and steady approach, with some very rough sections and a narrow track for most of the distance. I headed on to a parking spot and decided to climb The Twins.
The Twins VK3/VE-017 1702 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
The climb is steep but straight forward. I set up using the signpost to support the squidpole. I spotted and started on 40 m SSB, working Peter VK3ZPF almost immediately after I started, followed by Andrew VK3ARR on Mount Buninyong VK3/VC-018. I worked another four stations before moving to 40 m CW to work five stations. I then shut down, packed up and descended to the car.
I considered the climb to VK3/VE-023 just to the south of the saddle, but decided against another climb in the heat.
I continued out to the Great Alpine Road and then took Sugarloaf Track over Mount Sugarloaf and around to Gunns Track. Sugarloaf Track was very rough in places. At the obvious corner, I took the track marked “helipad” and on to the summit.
VK3/VE-030 (unnamed) 1570 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
Provided you set up the station on the eastern side of the access track, this summit is inside the Alpine National Park. I lashed a squid pole to one of the snow gums on the eastern side and was soon up and running.
I spotted and called on 40 m CW, and soon had a mini pile up with two stations calling. I quickly decipher one call – John VK4TJ and then listened for the other call. My brain eventually decoded it – Gary ZL2IFB. I worked Gary first and then John. Next was Andrei ZL1TM and then an unusual call being sent a little quick for my brain – somewhat tired after all the 4WD driving plus operating on the earlier summits. I eventually deciphered the call. It was Dave VK2WQ/QRP. I worked another two stations before moving to 20 m CW for three more contacts. A couple of SMS messages came in, so I moved to 80 m CW to work Allen VK3ARH and then to SSB for Geoff VK3SQ. It was after 1600 local and I still had a long drive out, so I closed down and packed up.
I headed back to Gunns track and then down Gunns Creek Track. About 3.5 km down, I came across a large tree across the road, with a steep 3 m embankment on the left. I could fit the bonnet under the tree but not the rest of the vehicle. The tree was too large to attempt to clear with my small chainsaw. I backed up the hill until I could find a spot wide enough to complete a multi-point U turn and returned to Gunns Track. I followed this, but soon encountered another tree down across the track. I retreated back to the junction with Paddy Hill Track and followed it northwest and then took Link Track and Albion Track, passing just below the summit of Albion Point VK3/VE-080. I eventually worked my way out to the junction with Mongrel Creek Track, Cemetery Lane and Wet Gully Track. I decided to head down Cemetery Lane towards Harrietville and the Great Alpine Road, as this was the shortest route out of the bush.
Once back on the bitumen, the route was simple, apart from holiday traffic, especially in Bright.
I arrived back in Wodonga by about 1915.
Monday was a declared Total Fire Ban day, so it was a day to stay at home base, to catch up with writing the blog and other tasks in the cool. Planning for following days would be on the list, but final decisions would need to wait until after the outcomes of fire behaviour following the wind changes later on the Monday. Many options were already ruled out due to road closures. The Great Alpine Road was still closed south of Ensay. On the Sunday evening and Monday morning, authorities were encouraging all campers in East Gippsland to pack up and head for home, or at least to one of the major towns. A new fire had started at Wingan River, closing the Princes Highway between Cann River and Genoa. The Bonang Highway was closed, with residents in Goongerah and other settlements in that region being urged to evacuate. Two fires near Jingellic and Walwa were at “Watch and Act” level. With the coming hot weather and strong winds with a dry cold front, things were looking potentially nasty for Monday afternoon and overnight.
Conditions in the northeast of Victoria were not as severe, but lightning strikes would be a possibility, so new fires might start. I would make my decisions on each morning in coming days.