It had been over a month since my last SOTA activation, and so I thought it time to put aside my CW rig design adventures and get my hands dirty (or is that scratched) out in the field. I had been to Eagle Peaks before, last time was on a Bush Search and Rescue Victoria expedition to help rescue a guy who had fallen off a cliff. For this trip, I would need to go near that same cliff. Better be careful.
Eagle Peaks VK3/VE-046
I set off Thursday (20th Sept) in the afternoon, but was a little delayed. I got to the parking spot at Eight Mile Gap just before sunset, and headed off on an hour and half walk to Eagle Peaks, with the last 3/4 of an hour in the dark. The track had actually had some work since the last time I was there, with the fire undergrowth slashed back. This was a hint as to what was to come later, which made me think that my initial plan for 6 summits might be a little difficult.
I arrived at Eagle Peaks at 7:30pm and quickly set up tent and strung out a new end fed wire for 20/40 with a matchbox to 50 ohms. There is a tuning stub a little less than half way for 20m. SWR was around 1.5 to 2 around 7.03, 7.09 and 14.06. I’ll need to look into this a little later to see if I can get this down a little more. I am not into trying to get 1.00001 SWR, but I would like it below 1.5 as then associated losses are minimal. I should not expect fantastic results here, considering the wire is only a few metres off the ground, strung up by trees. I used some rope at the end insulator to attach to an end tree.
I worked 5 stations on 40m fairly quickly. Nothing heard on 20m.
The Govenor VK3/VE-046
The DSE map has this spelt Govenor, rather than Governor – so I’ll take that as ok for now, although they are not always right with place names.
After seeing the slashed undergrowth on the way to Eagle Peaks the previous evening, I thought I need as much time as possible to get to The Govenor as it might be tough going. I awoke at 6am the next morning to rain showers and in the clouds. Visibility was at 50m. There would be a lot of map and compass today. First task was not to fall off the cliff at the same place the hiker did a few years ago, so I traversed to the east of the cliff. The ground was very steep, and it would be hard to go up the other way. I was amazed, when approaching Lickhole Gap, how many fallen trees there were. Many had come down only a few months ago, some snapped halfway up the trunk. It is expected that there are fallen trees around, but this was a large number. There was a major wind storm during the winter that affected an activation of Mt Bullfight, see here, and I think that many of these fallen trees came down from the same wind event. I hope to be able to access some of the pictures I took from my damaged camera phone – but we will see.
I found a track cut to Mt Darling which came in from the west. I used this for a bit, but it started to go down the hill to the north west. I presume it comes from somewhere near Sheepyard flat, but I was not going that way. It is not marked on any of the maps I had seen, but it is clearly intended to be there as the undergrowth had been slashed. In any case it only helped me out for a few hundred metres. 😦
From this track, I made my way down to the saddle between Mt Darling and The Govenor. Funny that there is a track to Mt Darling, but not The Govenor; it is a much higher summit. I arrived a little late to plan and began to activate. I quickly got 10 contacts on 40m SSB. I put out a number of calls on 20m, CW. I heard NS7P come back very weakly, it would have been a 219 contact. I got his call sign wrong with the QSB, he sent it back and I was good to go, but then he was gone. Either he had to stop operating or conditions had turned.
My observations about this end fed antenna so far is that it is much better for local contacts on 40. A good 2 S points or above, looking at my logs based on reports. That is nominally 12dB, but given the “compression” many rigs give on their S meter reports, I’ll take it to be about 6dB above my vertical. Where my vertical is streets ahead is on DX. I would say a good 15dB or more ahead. Shame that the vertical is not as convenient – particularly stringing out all of the radials.
Onward I say
So running a bit behind schedule, I decided to drop the attempt to go to VK3/VE-075 and head for Mt Sunday instead to camp for the night. I thought it would take about 7 or so hours to get there. I headed down along a route to quickly get to the river and then access a track about 200m up the other side.
I then hit the bad undergrowth, and this was a shocker. Progress became very slow, and with the saplings 4 to 5m high, I had to continuously use the compass to have any sense of direction. I was using a phone as a GPS, but all the spray from the undergrowth got into the phone holder, and water damaged the phone. No more GPS. Lucky I had a print out of the map on board, because that was now my only reference with the compass. I have done plenty of rogaines, so I am quite comfortable navigating by map and compass.
The undergrowth was so bad, I decided to chance it going down a watercourse that was quite open. You can see where this happened on the map where my track heading down from The Govenor heads to the north. The first part was ok, but once at the valley floor, it was bad. I expected it to be bad, but I thought it could not be as bad as the undergrowth up top. It was even worse. I have done these kinds of creek traverses on BSAR searches before, but this one would easily be the worst. It was made particulally bad by all of the recent tree felling by that wind storm. There were hundreds of mature living trees fallen. I have never seen anything like it. I expect dead trees burnt by fire to come down, but not many living mature trees. The shame about this was that these trees might have been spared by loggers over one hundred years ago, but many are taken out just a few months ago.
After more than 7 hours, I finally made it to the river at 7:30pm, completely exhausted. I was to watch an “Australian Story” about John Cantor’s traverse of the Brookes Range in Alaska when I got home. When conditions were against him, he had a meltdown at one point. I must admit that I can relate, as I had a meltdown when I was about 400m up from the river where I began to wonder if I could actually get out of this trap, or if I would be getting out my radio to call “MAYDAY MAYDAY this is VK3WAM”. Of course, with food and the rest on board, I would only be able to do this if I had broken a leg, but out of the many times I fell over trying to get down to the river, there was one time I thought, oooh that was close.
Moral of the story: Even if it is bad up on the ridge top, stay there, because the creek will be worse.
After making the river, I set up camp, had some dinner. I put up the end fed antenna, but in a steep valley on both sides, not too much signal gets out. It might work during the day when the skip on 40 is not so bad, but signals are well down at the bottom of the valley compared to the mountain top. I could not work anyone from down there, but I could at least listen to Sydney vs Collingwood football game.
I awoke early for the next day, with the first priority simply to get out of here. I still hoped to activate Mt McDonald, but a fall back option could be The Bluff. The first task was to cross the river. The level was quite high and I had to abort my first crossing attempt. After going up stream for 200m, I found a suitable crossing point where it was only about 80cm deep, even if fairly fast flowing. The walking pole helped enormously here as it had been doing most of the trip. It was tough to get out of the immediate valley area, but then the forest opened up. There was still plenty of undergrowth, but there were actually bare patches from time to time, and even grass on the ground! Actually seeing the ground was a moral lifter! It took another hour to get to the road.
Given all of the effort, Mt McDonald was going to have to wait for another trip. Instead, it was time to head for the car. This still took about 5 hours walking on the track. I was pretty tired with the backpack on. If I was to activate something, it would need to be with just a small light pack. I made the car, and then drove to Refrigerator Gap underneath The Bluff. Unfortunately, the track head is not at the saddle, but a little further up along the road. I was a little too tired to realise this at the time, so perhaps it was best just to head for home. In the end, I had two summits and 22 SOTA points in the bag. Now to get the phone fixed, and perhaps I can put up some photos. Looks like the remote locking on my car key does not work either!
Regards 73, Wayne VK3WAM