In late 2015, Brian VK3MCD suggested that interested SOTA enthusiasts gather for a weekend based at Hotham Heights. This idea grew into an annual event – a weekend of social interaction amongst SOTA activations in the area around Mount Hotham Alpine Resort.
The first gathering occurred in February 2016. We gathered at a ski lodge in the Davenport area which Brian was Manager for the coming ski season.
The group would gather on Friday afternoon and evening at a ski lodge at Hotham. Evenings would be spent discussing plans for activations, forming groups, planning routes, interesting discussions on diverse topics and the sampling of various beverages. Groups would head out each day to activate several summits, attempting to be on summits at times coinciding with other groups being on summits. As a result, it was usually possible for everyone in a group to qualify each summit by making Summit to Summit (S2S) contacts with those in other groups.
Most would gather on the summit of Mount Hotham on Saturday evening for nibbles and drinks, with most activating the summit for SOTA. Most would then retire to The General Store for dinner before returning to the lodge to plan the following day.
Sunday would see more summits activated. Some might depart at some stage to head home. Some would return to Hotham for Sunday night and head for home on Monday, usually activating summits as part of their exit route.
The 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires caused the postponement of the 2020 event, planned to be held in early February. Any idea of holding the event later in the year was destroyed by the COVID19 pandemic.
During the latter part of 2020, Brian VK3MCD discussed several ideas with me and proposed that the event occur again in February 2021, if Health Regulations allowed the gathering to occur. Brian set a tentative date and commenced organising the event. In October, we had a discussion about the event, with Brian advertising the event late in the month. Initial interest indicated possibly 25 people may attend.
The COVID pandemic caused all sorts of restrictions in different states of Australia and around the world. We saw lockdowns, restrictions on movements, border closures and drastic reductions in travel, especially in air travel and ocean cruising. In late December 2020, Victoria closed its border with NSW, with Entry Permits required to cross into Victoria. The situation was volatile.
By mid-January the situation had stabilised. The event planning proceeded. 15 participants committed to the event.
Thursday saw some of the interstate participants travelling towards Victoria, activating summits along their travel route. I managed to work several of the activations
Friday 5 February 2021
As I was packing the gear into the car, I managed to make one contact from home before departure.
I left home and headed to Stratford and made my way to Dargo, then north on the Dargo High Plains Road. As I proceeded north, the weather became gloomier and then the rain started. I decided to simply head to Hotham and settle into the ski lodge. Along the way, I managed further contacts. I did stop at a lookout west of Hotham to eat lunch rather late. The clouds made for impressive views.
I settled into the lodge and made a couple more chaser contacts. I ended up with six summits and one VKFF in the log.
Others started to arrive. Brian was setting up antennas. A 2 m vertical was already up. I assisted with the assembly of a DX Commander HF vertical. Brian placed that on the NW side of the lodge. He later ran an end fed half wave out on the SE side of the building.
A few of us travelled down to The General to have dinner. We returned to the lodge and discussions occurred around possible “wet weather” loops. We decided to wait until the morning to see if the wet weather had passed before making decisions.
Saturday 6 February 2021
The rain had largely gone by time people were up and about. I was still keen to try to get to a new summit, so suggested that I would head out along Twins Track to Mount Murray and then around to the new summit. Rik VK3EQ and Gerard VK2IO decided to join me.
We headed off to the northern end of the Dargo High Plains Road and took the Twins Road. We wound around past the saddle between The Twins and VK3/VE-023 and on towards Mount Murray.
I stopped briefly so that both Gerard and I could work Bob VK2BYF and Andrew VK2PEZ in VKFF-2547.
We were probably 75% of the way to Mount Murray when we reached a large tree across the track – about 65 cm in diameter. The uphill side of the track was a wall about 2 m high. We all jumped out to assess the tree. Neither Rik nor I were confident in tackling the downed tree, so we aborted our planned route. I backed up to a wider spot on the track and executed a multi-point U turn.
We headed back towards The Twins. Just past the high point of the track, I stopped and suggested that Rik and Gerard might like to take the gentler approach. They agreed. We organised the gear and Rik took my pack. They clambered up the side of the track and then up to the spur to then follow the Alpine Walking Track (AWT) to the summit.
VK3/VE-023 (unnamed) 1646 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
I drove on to the saddle below The Twins and then climbed up the steep NE spur to the summit. When I reached the summit, Rik and Gerard were busy working activators on other summits on 2 m simplex. I managed to work two summits on 2 m FM.
We then set up the HF station. I soon worked four stations on CW, including three Summit to Summit (S2S) contacts. I passed the key to Gerard, who quickly picked up the feel of the VK3IL Pressure Sensor paddle. Gerard soon had the summit qualified on CW, so we packed up and set about each chasing the summit, using 70 cm FM. One would remain on the summit whilst the other two exited the Activation Zone and made the chase of the summit. The person on the summit would exit the AZ and the others would climb back into the AZ and make the contact. The process was repeated as necessary until all three had had chased the summit. We all decided to exit by walking back to the west along the AWT and then dropping down to the Twins Track. We reached the car and decided that it was time for lunch.
We sat out of the wind, which was blowing hard. We decided against the exposed climb up to the summit of The Twins. We headed back to the Great Alpine Road and east towards Omeo and took the track up to the next summit for the day.
VK3/VG-030(unnamed) 1321 m 8 points
I parked and soon had a line over a tree branch to haul up the doublet. First in the log was John VK5HAA/3 on Sam Hill VK3/VG-049 on 80 m CW. I moved to 40 m CW and had only a single caller. I moved up to 20 m and worked two ZL regular Chasers. I then returned to 40 m CW to work Allen VK3ARH/p and Tony VK3CAT/p, both on Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015. I moved from the operating chair so that Gerard could operate. I walked down the hill until outside the AZ and chased Rik on 70 cm FM. I returned to the car and worked Ken VK3KIM on VK3/VG-157 on 2 m FM. Soon after, we packed up and returned to the Great Alpine Road.
I drove into the edge of Omeo and worked my way around to Bald Hills Creek Road. I missed one critical corner, but stopped about 100 m beyond to check the map and we were soon back on track. I then swung onto Mt Gingee Munjie Track and drove around to the summit.
VK3/VG-064 (unnamed) 1038 m 6 points
I parked and quickly tossed a throw line over a branch and we were soon setting up HF.
I worked Phil VK3BHR and John VK5HAA, both on VK3/VG-157. I was soon operating on 20 m CW, working two ZL regulars followed by Tony VK3CAT, Allen VK3ARH and Glenn VK3YY, all on Basalt Knob VK3/VE-039.
The next stations worked were Ken VK3KIM, Leigh VK3SG and Brian VK3BCM, all on Mt Baldhead VK3/VG-027.
Once we had all qualified the summit as desired, we packed up and headed back to Omeo.
We heard a Spot for Andrew VK3JBL on Mount Skene VK3/VE-031. I drove to the Kosciusko Lookout to park. I then changed the HF whip wander lead but could not hear Andrew on 40 m. We returned to the road and continued towards Hotham. As we were approaching Cobungra Station, we heard a new Spot from Andrew. I pulled off onto a side road and found a spot where we could stop. After turning off the car, we soon had Andrew in the log on 80 m.
We returned to the main road and returned to Hotham, parking outside The General and joined the group for dinner.
We returned to the lodge for more discussion and some “Show and Tell”.
Sunday 7 February 2021
Both Rik and Gerard decided to again travel with me. We decided on the Nunniong Loop, with the possibility of trying the very long extended version. We got away from Hotham at a reasonable time and made a brief stop in Omeo to fill the fuel tank. I then drove to Benambra and out to Limestone Road and up to Mt Pendergast. Discussion along the way meant that we changed our route options choice.
Mount Pendergast VK3/VG-022 1450 m 8 points
We drove up to the summit and parked. I soon had a line over a tree branch to haul up the doublet. Rik and Gerard had started working other groups on 2 m FM. I soon had the doublet in the air with assistance from Gerard. I then set about setting up 23 cm, using a homebrew Yagi and my IC-9700. Unfortunately, I found that I had made an error in mounting a boom to tripod adapter to the Yagi boom, so the tripod thread would not engage. I simply set the carry case onto the small table and used it to hold the Yagi.
I soon worked Compton on Mt Blue Rag on 23 cm FM. I then finished setting up the HF gear and worked Bob VK2BYF in VKFF-2734. Then Andrew VK1DA on Mt Hotham called and I suggested that we make the contact on CW, changed mode and soon had the contact in the log. My next contact was Chris VK1CT /p on VK1/AC-042 on 80 m CW. Next we used Rik’s 3-element lightweight Yagi to work Andrew VK1AD/p at Mount Ginini VK1/AC-008 on 2 m SSB.
I returned to making CW contacts on HF now that we were in the new UTC day, working two ZL stations and a VK5. I then worked the two Andrews again on 2 m SSB in the new day – VK1DA on Hotham and VK1AD on Ginini. Next it was 80 SSB for two stations on VK3/VT-018, before I managed to find and work Rob VK4AAC/3 in VKFF-2153. We were soon packing up to head to the next summit.
En route we managed to chase Peter VK3ZPF on VK3/VC-006 on 80 m SSB.
We exited back to Misery Train, where we turned left and headed around to Misery Road, then up Dapple Creek Track and climbed up to the next target.
VG3/VG-009 (unnamed) 1628 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
At the top of the climb of the road to the ridge line and a sharp left turn to run along the ridge to the north, one is inside the AZ of the summit.
I parked and soon had a line over a tree branch. Gerard assisted in erecting the doublet. I was soon working stations on 80 m CW. After about 10 m minutes of calling, I moved to 20 m CW and worked two ZL stations. Next I moved to 40 m CW and worked three stations, including a S2S with Allen VK3ARH on Mt Loch.
Next I tried for some S2S contacts on 2 m FM. I worked Alan VK3AGS at the ski lodge, Andrew VK1DA on VK3/VE-024 and Compton VK2HRX on Mt Birregen. The final contact before we packed up was with Peter VK3TKK in VKFF-2297.
We packed up and headed west along Misery Trail, around to the area closest to the next summit. I was not happy with the available parking spots, so travelled back about 150 m to a wide area and parked. We loaded up the gear in my pack and headed back to near our turn around point and then headed in an easterly direction through the alpine terrain – snow gums, snow grasses and some low scrub. I roughly followed brumby tracks, with some fallen trees requiring minor detours. At one stage, Rik and Gerard asked if we were travelling in the correct direction – I was going by map memory, not using map, compass nor GPS. We soon arrived at the target saddle between the main ridge line to the west and our target summit. We continued climbing until well up the hill. We were not at the summit but on a nice open rocky area well inside the AZ.
Misery Range VK3/VG-008 1647 m 10 points
The selected spot had an excellent take off back towards Omeo and Hotham. I tossed a line over a branch, but Rik and Gerard were already calling on 2 m FM. I grabbed my handheld and soon had the summit qualified, including three S2S contacts. We discussed options and decided against setting up HF as time was rolling on.
We packed up and started the walk back, with Gerard carrying the pack this time. We soon popped back out onto Misery Trail close to where we had departed the track and had a short walk back to the car.
We laoded up and headed south back towards Limestone Road. Checking the time when we arrived at the junction of Limestone Road and Beloka Road, we decided that it was best to head back to Hotham to join the cocktail party on the summit.
As we were approaching Hotham, we worked some of those on the summit on 2 m FM, helping them to qualify the summit.
We arrived at the summit and were soon comparing notes from the day and enjoying a drink and some nibbles. I did not bother to activate the summit as I plan to activate it during the Bonus season. We then travelled to The General for dinner and returned to the lodge.
Monday 8 February 2021
The remaining participants had a variety of plans. Some would simply return home, with or without any detours. Four of us settled on a two vehicle plan of attack on the Blue Rag Range Track. Andrew VK1DA and John V K5HAA would travel out to the Blue Rag Trig and then to Basalt Knob. Gerard VK2IO and I would travel to Mount Blue Rag, out to the Blue Rag Trig and then around to Basalt Knob.
Gerard and I were underway a few minutes ahead of the VK1DA team. We drove to the Dargo High Plains Road and south to Blue Rag Range Track. We drove up to the high point north of Mount Blue Rag and parked off both the main track and the access track towards the summit.
Mount Blue Rag VK3/VE-021 1679 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
Careful examination of the maps shows that the saddle between the high point to the north and the summit proper is less than 25 m vertical below the summit, so the high point beside the main track is inside the AZ.
I soon tossed a line over a tree, but something caught and the throw bag ended up wrapped around a branch…. Pulling on the line was not successful, only breaking the line. I tried prodding with a squid pole, but no joy. I used a second throw line to get a line across the branch. By pulling on both ends of the line, I was able to break a couple of branches off and the two throw bags went flying. A couple of minutes of searching resulted in us finding both throw bags. Another toss and I had a usable line over a branch.
We had the station set up by time Andrew and John drove past.
We had the summit comfortably qualified by time Andrew and John arrived on Blue Rag Range / Trig. We made contacts with them and also S2S contacts with VK3/VE-017 The Twins, VK3/VE-005 Mt Loch and VK3/VE-081 Ebenezer Range.
We packed up and headed towards their location. We arrived as they were starting to pack up.
Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015 1717 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
We set up the gear after we had some lunch. I started calling on 80 m SSB and had only one caller. I next moved to 40 m CW and worked four stations. Next was a 40 m SSB S2S with Compton VK2HRX on VK3/VE-256. I allowed Gerard to jump into the operator’s chair and took some photos. I also worked Tony VK3CAT on The Knocker VK3/VG-016 on 20 m CW. We started packing up and the last contacts we made were on 70 cm FM with John and Andrew, now on Basalt Knob VK3/VE-039. We headed back east along the access track. Part way along we stopped to work Phil VK3BHR on The Horn VK3/VE-014. I drove south to Basalt Knob and parked at the edge of the helipad.
Basalt Knob VK3/VE-039 1512 m 10 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619
We climbed up to where Andrew had set up, just below the summit. The area had been burnt and there was plenty of long grass which required one to pay attention to where you placed your feet.
Andrew was having trouble raising a fourth C W contact. Once he was qualified, Gerard and I quickly made contacts on 2 m FM to qualify the summit. We returned to the car. Whilst getting organised, a spot came through for Tony VK3CAT, now on Mount Wills. All four of us worked Tony from the car on 20 m CW. Next came a spot from Phil VK3BHR, now on The Hump. We grabbed handhelds and quickly walked up the hill until just inside the AZ to make S2S contacts with Phil. We then returned to our cars and started the return journey to Hotham, with Gerard jumping in with Andrew and John joining me.
There was plenty of discussion on the way back. We stopped at the Great Alpine Road junction. John joined Gerard and Andrew, with Gerard making sure that he had all his gear. I said farewell and I started the drive to Wodonga.
After I arrived in Wodonga, I managed to work Andrew, Gerard and John on Mount Loch on 80 m CW.
It had been a very busy weekend.
Thanks to all involved in the weekend, regardless of your role: organiser, attendee, Activator, Chaser. It was a terrific gathering with lots of interchange of ideas.