I received notice that there would be an interruption to our power at home on Tuesday, so it was time to hit the hills. I had looked at these three summits and thought it would be possible to activate all three in a day, so lets hop to it.
My plan of attack was to drive up on Monday night and sleep overnight near the first summit in the car. I headed up past Marysville and Lake Mountain and headed onto the Eildon Warbuton Rd. This was a nice gravel road to start off with. I made my way up to Coy Rd – but alas – a large tree had fallen over the road. Even a chainsaw would have not helped here. So back down to Eildon Warbuton Rd and continue trying northwards. Again another tree across the road. If I had a chainsaw, I might have got through this one, but no, turn around and go all the way around through Buxton to Snobs Creek Rd. This added two hours, and my planned early morning start would need to be pushed back a little given I was now going to bed at 1:30am rather than the planned 11:30pm.
Mt Bullfight VK3/VN-002
Still, I got up just before 6am and headed up Bullfight Track to a high point north of the summit itself. There is actually a flagged route from near here to the summit, but I did not know of it on the way up, but used it on the way back. Still, it is of little use, following your nose could be a better option. The forest floor is quite open and progress is quite good. The picture following shows the open forest floow near the summit. There was patchy icy snow from about 1400m up.
Propagation was poor from the top. On 40m I was unable to contact anyone from VK3. It took about 2 hours to get the required 4 contacts to obtain the points from the summit. Sometimes life is not easy QRP, but still the FT-817 is a great rig.
Pyramid Hill VK3/VN-005
Next up was Pyramid Hill. I headed down toward Bullfight Track much the way I came, but trying to follow the flagging tape of the route. Next time I might not bother with this. Upon hitting the road, I headed back towards the car at Snobs Gap, but then left the road at its northern most limit, and headed off track for about 1km towards the next track. I made my way through an area that had recently been logged. It makes me wonder why they don’t remove more wood than they do, at least woodchip it. The area had been burnt as recently as 2 months ago, which I presume is to aid regermination.
Royston Range Rd is used to get most of the way towards the summit – this track is closed during winter, but during summer a 2wd could get up this easily. The last 300m is on a steep 4wd track which gets within 15 vertical metres of the summit. I operated about 5m below the summit on the eastern side to try and avoid the wind that was howling quite worryingly. A picture of the vertical antenna is shown below:
Again, the propagation was poor. 20m was like the antenna was disconnected. 40m did not sound so much better, but the presence of strong signals from VK2 and VK5 told me that it was not the antenna. Like at Mt Bullfight, it was a 2 hour slog to get the required 4 contacts. Again, no VK3, with a skip zone of several hundred kms on 40m. I tried a little CW on 20m but it was a waste of time.
Apart from the long activations setting me behind my planned time schedule, I was also starting to have problems with the tapped loading coil. I have a crocodile clip to tap the coil. This clip was not very strong, and I could tell the metal was becoming stressed and would fail soon. I needed to be gentile with it to coax it to remain in working order for the rest of these activations, otherwise I would be well down on 20 and 40m with a loading coil too big.
After getting the 4 contacts, it was time to walk back to the car, on track, but a distance of nearly 8 km. It took about an hour and a half.
Bill Head VK3/VN-004
The idea with my last activation was to use Conn Gap Rd to drive the car to a point north east of the summit, but only 70m vertical down, do a quick climb up and approach the summit from the ridge line. I have walked here twice before with the VMTC. The cunning plan had a fatal flaw. The road was too rough for the car, and I could not get to this point. Instead, I had to turn the car around much further south. I was also worried about any future tree falls blocking the rest of the road and preventing me from getting out at the end of the day! It was nearly sunset, and from where I could get the car, I would need to climb 170m to the summit. The draw of 8 plus 3 bonus points drew me on. I arrived at the summit about 30 minutes after sunset – very gloomy up there.
Due to the dark, I took no pictures, but this was the easiest activation to setup the vertical antenna. 40m sounded much more open, now we were in the dark. Of course, if there is a skip zone in the day, it is going to be bigger at night. Not so big that I could not get at least some contacts. The struggle to get the 4 contacts is not so much about having a signal that cannot be heard, it is that there were not so many on the band. I had two CQ call answers, but I had to tailend to get the rest, one with a ZL.
I got a contact on 40m, but then tried 80m to attempt to get the elusive VK3 contacts. My vertical is very short for 80m. The loading coil helps, but my little QRP signal with the short antenna losses is not going to overcome the s8, s9 noise floors that many suburban stations have on 80. In the end, it was back to 40 to get those contacts. Yes it was late, and I was not to get back to the car until 9:20pm but I was not leaving without the SOTA points.
Finally, it was pack up time and time to get out of there. Conn Gap rd was still an adventure, but Snobs Creek Rd felt like a freeway – except for the wildlife. I was going slow enough to avoid trouble, however.
Regards 73, Wayne VK3WAM