Australia Day 2023 celebrated with a SOTA trip

I had spent quite some time over the previous days examining the available mapping with regards to the many new Parks in Gippsland added to the Parks On The Air program (POTA). VK POTA Coordinator Marty VK4KC had recently added a large number of Parks for VK. Only very recently have these Parks been added to the databases at the ParksnPeaks website. Boundary files are not yet available for download, but other online mapping sources are available to check boundaries. I was exploring possible locations to access the new Parks that were within an hour or so from home.

On the Wednesday evening, I noticed that a couple of Alerts were posted for SOTA activations on Australia Day and decided to head out to a SOTA summit located in one of the new Parks.

Thursday 26 January 2023

The day started a little late, as I had slept in somewhat. I quickly organised the required gear and set off from home without having had breakfast. As I was driving, I considered my route options, deciding to hope that the Bakery at Heyfield would be open.

The trip to Heyfield was uneventful. Unfortunately, the Bakery was closed. The door was open at Heyfield Pizza and Take Away., so I entered and grabbed a drink from the ‘fridge. I was served and asked if I required anything further. On asking for a hamburger, I was informed that the store was not due to open until 1100 (it was 0950!). The lady glanced at the clock, and informed me that she would accept the order and I would need to wait 10 minutes. Very nice, helpful country service! 10 minutes later, I was sitting in the car consuming brunch. The plan at that stage was to activate the summit and probably head back to Heyfield for a late lunch snack.

I then headed to Coongulla and then northward to reach Ben Cruachan Rd, There were a couple of nasty rutted and rocky sections on the final climb to the end of the road, tackled with 4WD Low Range engaged. I safely reached the parking area at the end of the road and parked the vehicle. I soon had a line over a tree branch and the doublet in the air. I set up the station on the rustic picnic table.

Ben Cruachan VK3/VT-042 827 m 4 points
Ben Cruachan Natural Features Scenic Reserve VK-4038

The station at Ben Cruachan, with the summit visible behind.

Once the station was assembled, I started setting up the logging app and noticed that Bernard AX2IB/p had spotted almost 30 minutes earlier on 40 m CW. I quickly moved to his spotted frequency and heard nothing. I sent a “?”. Bernard responded with his callsign and we soon completed a contact, including exchanging summit references. Bernard was on Mount Emu VK3/VE-061, located to the north of Mount Beauty. Thanks for the S2S contact Bernard!

I moved a few kilohertz up the band and posted a spot, but forgot to change the frequency in the app. I resent the Spot with the correct frequency, but forgot to correct the Park reference. Doh!

I was using a hack, as the app I use does not natively support POTA. This had not previously been an issue, as there was a 1:1 relationship between VKFF/WWFF and POTA. Anyone wishing to activate could simply log and Spot using the VVKK reference number. Once at home, I use the mParks Converter program to create a log with the POTA references translated by the program. The new log file can then be uploaded to POTA. The new POTA references all have reference numbers higher that the VKFF reference numbers, so I simply added the POTA number as a WWFF reference. When spotting for SOTA, the app would set up a self spot including the WWFF reference in the Comment field, but I needed to delete the “FF” before sending the Spot. This simple hack will need to be used with care in the future when more Parks are added to VKFF. Once home, it is simple to change the MY_SIG and MY_SIG_INFO fields to the correct values, especially if one is using the ADIF Master program.

I started calling CQ, working my next station after a few minutes. I worked another 14 stations on 40 m CW, giving me 15 contacts logged. Both the summit and Park were qualified. I swapped to 40 m SSB and Spotted. I soon had Hunters responding to my calls. I was considering closing when a Spot came through from Glenn VK3YY that he was setting up and would be QRV in 10 minutes. Several minutes later, having had no replies, I stopped calling CQ and moved to Glenn’s spotted frequency, finding Bernard AX2IB/p working Matt VK1MA. Glenn was not yet on air. I quickly worked both Matt and Bernard, with Glenn calling in as the contact with Bernard was concluding. I worked Glenn and then closed down, with 31 contacts logged.

I packed up and retraced my access route. In the worst of the rutted areas on the descent, I again engaged 4WD Low and progressed slowly. I managed to hit one of the rocks on the underbody protection. As I was driving down, I noticed a purple marker on the GPS navigator above the dash. (I run a now-old Chinese built 7 inch “multimedia Player” running Windows CE, onto which I have loaded OziExplorerCE, with GetLostMaps 1:25000 maps on an SD card. The purple marker is a waypoint for a HEMA summit.)

Once at the bottom of the descent, I stopped and checked the mapping. The HEMA summit was about 1.2 km away (direct line), so I decided to attempt to activate the summit. I swung north on Avon Track, then west on Dolodrook Track, travelling to the high point of the track, NNE of the summit. I parked the car and loaded up the SOTA pack. I needed to head about 100 m horizontal through thick regrowth to be safely inside the summit AZ. I did not bother climbing all the way to the summit, given the thick scrub.

VK3/HVE-036 (unnamed) 707 m Not previously Activated

I set up with a line over a tree branch at about 7 m. I did not spot, as I was able to attract attention on the usual Parks 40 m SSB focus frequency. I soon had eight contacts in the log. With no further responses to my calls, I closed down and packed up. I returned tot he vehicle and headed back to the track junction below Ben Cruachan.

I stopped to consider my options. The forecast rain had not arrived, so I decided to attempt to reach a couple of summits that had been on my “To Do” list for a long time. I swung west onto Mt Margaret Track. The track had lots of regrowth at the edges, so I expect that the vehicle now has more pinstripes… The trip was about 33 km of 4WD, taking about 2 hours to reach the next target summit. Progress was slow but steady. I was aware that I was probably travelling past a couple of HEMA summits, but decided to continue, as I was not sure of the time required to traverse the route. The descent west of Chromite Mine Track had a nasty narrow and heavily rutted section, where I inched through in 4WD Low and managed to bottom out on one rock due to the deep ruts. I parked on the NW shoulder of the next summit and walked up into the activation zone.

Mount Margaret VK3/VT-031 1094 m 6 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619

Given that it was almost 1600 local time, I did not continue all the way to summit, setting up about 15 m vertical below the summit. I had no mobile coverage, so again checked the Parks focus frequency on 40 m SSB, where I found my first contact, Malcolm VK3OAK in VKFF-2182. I moved up the band to a clear frequency. My next contact was Andrew VK2DA, who kindly agreed to spot me. I soon had nine contacts in the log. The last caller asked me to try CW, so I changed modes and started calling on the same nominal frequency. I eventually worked four stations, thus qualifying the summit on CW as well as SSB, and taking the Park tally beyond the 10 required for VKFF. I packed up and descended to the car.

Given the nasty deep ruts behind me, I continued northwards. I was aware that the northern section of the track as it descends to the Wellington River has a reputation for being difficult but hoped I could manage it. I was soon at the next summit, where the track passes within a metre vertical of the summit.

VK3/VT-032 (unnamed) 1067 m 6 points
Alpine National Park VKFF-0619

I parked off the edge of the track and soon had a line over a tree branch. I set up the station only metres from the vehicle on the edge of the track. I had mobile phone coverage and was able to spot myself. I managed to work 15 stations in about 20 minutes before I swapped to CW, where I made four contacts. I received an SMS message asking I could return to SSB, to which I responded in the positive and soon had another contact in the log. I heard another spot, and quickly moved up the band to work Daryl VK3AWA activating VKFF-0747 using our Club callsign. I then packed up and resumed the trip north.

The distance out to Tamboritha Road was about 14 km. On reaching the helipad, the track starts to drop steeply to the west, initially over rocky ground. I took my time on the descent, mostly in first gear Low Range 4WD. Care was required to pick a reasonable line. I finally reached the bottom, stopping just before the bitumen to change back to 2WD. My thoughts were that I would not like to have to drive up that section of track. I then headed for home, via Licola, Seaton and Traralgon. The trip involved about 73 km of dirt roads, with about 54 km of 4WD.

A view into the upper Wellington River valley from the Mt Margaret Track west of the helipad.
The route through the hills. “3 Tyson Road” is in Heyfield (just a convenient marker). Ben Cruachan Road is the parking spot below Ben Cruachan. Monomak is the road junction below the summit, with the spot to the north the parking place for the HEMA summit. Sargood is the parking spot for Mt Margaret, and the eastern “Licola” is VK3/VT-032. The western Licola is where Mt Margaret Track joins Tamboritha Road. The helipad is located at the northernmost point of the track. Image courtesy Google Maps.

Thanks to all who made contact during the day.

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