Four Gippsland SOTA summits and a new HEMA Hump

14 October 2021

The weather had been ordinary, with several cold fronts moving through SE Australia. There had been several days with high wind speeds, which make operating radio on high mountain peaks very comfortable and potentially dangerous.

Thursday 14 October was predicted to be a mixed day: heavy rain and strong winds overnight, but clear in the morning with a low chance of rain. Another rain system with possible thunderstorms was forecast from mid-afternoon.

When I woke, I found clear blue skies and the ground wet from the overnight rain. I decided to head out for a multi-summit day to earn some SOTA activator points on the last full day of the Bonus season.

I headed to Traralgon to add fuel to the vehicle, and then headed to Seaton and then north on Springs Road. I was planning to do my normal loop in the reverse direction but leaving out the southern-most summit normally included in the loop (VK3/VT-083). My route was flexible, as I would make route decisions when I reached key road junctions based upon my assessment of the weather. The aim was to activate four SOTA summits eligible for the seasonal bonus points. Given very good conditions and the rain holding off, a fifth bonus summit might be possible.

At around 24 km along Springs Road I reached some 40 km/hr speed signs for road works. A grader was working on resurfacing the road – the road to this point had been unusually smooth, with the resurfacing works completed. Travel through the work zone was smooth, apart from negotiating a long section with a pile of stones about 30 cm high roughly in the middle of the road. Once past the end of the roadworks zone, the surface was more familiar, with many potholes to dodge.

Mount Useful VK3/VT-016 1434 m 8 plus 3 bonus points

Mount Useful summit from Springs Road, about 1 km from the summit.

The final approach track to Mount Useful summit was in excellent condition, having been resurfaced and new drains installed. The snow gums either side of the track had been cut down, presumably to create a fire break either side of the track. I drove up to the fire tower and decided to park near the SW end of the summit clearing, giving me some distance from the solar system and other equipment at the tower area.

I set up the ZS6BKW with a line over a tree branch and assembled the station on my folding camp chair – battery in the arm “cooler” section and the KX2 on the arm of the chair.

I called several times before my first contact – Ian VK5CZ. I guess that I really should have posted a new Spot when ready, after the “Setting up QRV in 10 minutes” spot. I soon had three more Chasers in the log – summit qualified. I called for a couple more minutes with no further responses, so I changed to 20 m CW and spotted. That produced one contact – ZL1TM. Several more CQ calls went unanswered, so I moved to 20 m SSB, producing only a single contact – Marty VK4KC. Further calls went unanswered, so I shut down and packed up.

I returned to Springs Road and headed north. At the junction with Green Hills Link Road, the road changes name to South Road. The weather was still fine when I reached Mt Selma Road, so I continued north to Jameson-Licola Road, then NW to N7 Track. I then negotiated the side track up onto the plateau of Connors Plain.

Connors Plain VK3/VT-022 1305 m 8 plus 3 bonus points

The edge of the Activation Zone for the summit is just below the edge of the plateau. I parked the car and soon had a line over a tree branch. I set up the station again in the same manner as the earlier summit, after having posted a Spot that I was setting up.

I again spotted myself and started calling on 40 m CW. I worked six (6) stations over about 12 minutes. With no further callers, I moved to SSB and worked five (5) stations in less than five minutes. After more CQ calls, I moved to 20 m CW to work two ZL stations. I finally spotted for 80 m SSB and worked one further station.

I packed up and headed back down to the main road, then back tracked to South Road and around to Mt Selma Road, then headed west to Mt Selma Track and up to the top of the hill.

Mount Selma VK3/VT-013 1464 m 8 plus 3 bonus points

Once I parked the vehicle, I spotted that I was setting up. I set up in the same manner as the previous summits.

First in the log was Bob VK2B YF/p in Gulaga National Park VKFF-0221. Signals were weak over the distance on 40 m SSB. I then moved to 40 m CW, where I worked six stations. I then moved to 40 m SSB and worked another five stations. I noted that Matt VK1MA spotted that conditions were poor. With no further callers, I decided to shut down and pack up.

A few clouds had appeared, but I decided to head west towards Walhalla Road. Once at the junction, I decided to head north and around to Mount Matlock.

Mount Matlock VK3/VC-001 1372 m 8 plus 3 bonus points

I parked just south of the summit trig and set up the station in the same manner as the earlier summits, after spotting that I was on site. John VK4TJ was first in the log, only 8 minutes after I had spotted that I was setting up. Three more chasers followed soon after John. With no further responses, I moved to 80 m SSB and worked three stations in VK3. I then moved to 40 m SSB and worked Matt VK1MA. I moved to 40 m CW and worked only Ian VK5CZ. I returned to 80 m, this time on CW to work two contacts.

I noted that the clouds were building, so closed the station and packed up.

I headed out to Warburton-Woods Point Road and headed west.

VK3/HVC-002 (unnamed) “1243 m” Not previously activated

All HEMA summits are worth 1 point. This summit had not yet been activated, partly because of the COVID restrictions.

I parked just north of the junction with Turners Track, on the north side of the main road. I loaded up the SOTA rucksack and walked south along Turners Track after negotiating the very solid locked gate. I walked the short distance to the obvious high point, close to a track junction with a logging road coming in from the west.

I had previously looked at the mapping for this Hump. The highest spot height displayed on the official Victorian maps (Mapshare Vic) is 1215 m, located about 612 m further south along a very flat ridge. The entire ridge top, even the area where I parked north of the main road, is above the 1200 m contour. I set up close to the track junction, tossing a line over a tree branch to raise the lightweight ZS6BKW doublet. I used a low tree stump as a seat. The site was not very inspiring, the edge of a very large area which had been logged.

A panorama of VK3/HVC-002 from close to the activation site.

I spotted myself and started calling CQ. First in the log was Nev VK5WG, some five minutes later. Propagation conditions were poor. It was another eight minutes to the next contact, with another shortly afterwards. I went several minutes without any further responses. I moved to 80 m CW and worked Andrew VK1DA under trying conditions – weak signals and a very noisy band. I moved to 80 m SSB and made only one contact. I spotted on 40 m CW and called for several minutes without any responses. A spot came through for Bob VK2BYF/p on 80 m. I had listened for Bob on 40 m SSB earlier on several occasions earlier in the day, but could hear only hunters. I quickly moved to Bob’s 80 m frequency and was hearing both Bob and hunters. I waited for a chance to call and finally worked Bob in Bermagui Flora Reserve VKFF-3043.

I had been watching very dark clouds build to the south and east. The temperature had dropped significantly over the past 20 minutes and the air was feeling very damp. I decided to pack up and head back to the car.

As I headed west on Warburton-Woods Point Road, I looked back as I passed the logging road junction. It appeared as if the gate was open, but I did not stop to check.

After a couple of minutes of driving, the rain started. As I headed south on Nine Mile Road, the rain intensity increased and then turned to hail. My normal route home from here would be towards Tanjil Bren, but a significant part of the Mount Baw Baw Tourist Road is still closed following significant damage during a storm event back in June. I detoured via Tooronga Road to reach Noojee and then headed south to the Princes Highway and then east to home.

During the drive on the Highway, broadcast radio were reporting weather warnings of flash flooding at Traralgon. It appears that I had timed my activations just right – four SOTA summits qualified plus a new HEMA Hump qualified before the rain hit. Given the weather condition, the fifth SOTA summit was abandoned.

Thanks to all who attempted to make contact with me during the day under trying propagation conditions.

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