I had been planning to do a number of SOTA activations on Saturday the 13th of October to take advantage of the closing SOTA seasonal bonus period. I had been aiming to try out a squid pole, but an SMS on my mobile on Thursday (11th) changed all that. A school group was needing assistance near Licola. They were further up in the mountains, on the Wellington Plains.
Bush Search and Rescue Victoria callout
Given that I planned to be in Gippsland for the Saturday, I arranged to get picked up by the BSAR bus near Morwell, rather than in Melbourne, saving a trip at the end back to Melbourne, and then to immediately drive back in the same direction. I thought that it would be likely that the rescue callout would be wrapped up by Friday evening, especially as the school group’s location was already known. This did rule out taking up the squid pole as I had not got it ready. Instead, I’ll use the end fed suspended in trees.
The BSAR bus arrived at the Gippsland pick up at midnight and we then proceeded to Licola to pick up some gear. After that, we headed up towards McFarlane Saddle, but I presume someone had by then reached the group and we returned to Licola by about 3am.
Further details about this callout can be obtained from the BSAR website.
In the mid morning, we were stood down and returned to Melbourne, or in my case, the car near Morwell.
Mt Hooghly VK3/VT-049
With an afternoon now free, I thought I might pick up a bonus SOTA activation, but leave my Baw Baw activations to Saturday as planned. I first gave Peter, VK3PF a quick call to find out the situation concerning VK3/VT-049 and then headed up. I operated from near the trig point.
I strung up the end fed in some trees. The feed point was near the ground. I noticed that if I lifted this up about a metre from the ground, SWR was very low, but at the ground it was about 2. I worked Peter VK3PF on VK3/VN-003 and a few other stations. I then packed up and looked to activate something else further south.
South Gippsland attempts
I made my way down to the Grand Ridge Road with a view to look at Mt Fatigue VK3/VT-057. The northern access road near to this summit was closed, so I looked to come from the west. This may be possible, but needs a high clearance vehicle. I was not in the mood for a longer walk, so I thought I would try for Lay Hill VK3/VT-077 instead. There is a road that approaches the summit, but the highest point is still about 35m below the top. The actual summit is on private land, so this was not going to happen today.
So with that, it was time to have some dinner, catch up with Peter VK3PF for a chat and head out to Mt St Gwinear for the two planned activations on the Saturday. There was no one in the Gwinear car park overnight. The temperature was about 2C overnight with some patchy snow around the car park, which is just under 1300m elevation.
Mt St Phillack VK3/VT-006
This summit is the highest point on the Baw Baw plateau. There are many summits on the plateau, but only one other point has enough prominence to qualify as a SOTA summit, and I was heading there later. To first access VT-006, I headed up the jeep track, and then used the Gwinear bypass track. Snow was around 10cm cover and dry at this stage, rising to about 20cm at the rock shelter. I then headed up Phillack, where there was about 50cm coverage near the top. I operated about 30m away from the summit high point to the south west. Here is a pic taken about 200m further down from the operating location:
I set up the end fed antenna, but my SWR was around 2 to 2.3. Not a great match, and the snow on the ground and in the trees perhaps is a significant contributing factor. Also it sounded really deaf, any QRN was quite low down. Not a great sign. I worked Peter VK3PF, but my signal to him was quite weak. This would have been a ground wave contact – there was LOS to his QTH. No other takers on 40m even though there was lots of calling. I made a nominal effort on 20m, but could see that this was not going to give much joy. I then went for 2m, and Peter helped call around on a few repeaters to drum up some contacts for me. I only had a 1/4 wave whip on a HT for 2m, but it was enough. Time to trudge back to the car, rather than continue with the original plan of accessing Talbot Hill VK3/VT-010 via the Australian Alpine Walking Track from the rock shelter. Too much snow for that.
I noticed on the way that the snow was much more wet lower down now, and there was hardly anything left back down at the car park. The weather had been quite poor, but there were some signs that it might improve, so I thought I would give Talbot Hill a go from the Mt Erica carpark instead.
After arriving at the Erica car park, I headed up, past Mushroom rocks, where the first hints of snow were seen. Ummm, not such a good sign as these are around 1200m altitude, and I still have to climb up another 300m to Mt Erica and then Talbot Hill. As it turned out, there was more snow coverage to lower heights here than around Gwinear. Still, it was the right decision to approach Talbot Hill from this direction, given its much closer proximity to the Erica carpark than St Gwinear’s carpark. Also I was familiar with the track from a BSAR search here last year. I did wonder why Mt Erica had to be a little lower than Talbot Hill, as the track crosses Mt Erica first. Have to trudge on.
The track was a little hard to follow. Another 20cm of snow, and it would not be possible to follow it, rather you would have to just proceed in its general direction and ensure your navigation skills were up to scratch. Here is a typical section of track (can you see where it is?)
I ended up operating from near the trig point on Talbot Hill. The AAWT does not actually go past the trig point, skipping it about 20 metres away. Still it is quite easy to find. Proceed up the track until it stops climbing, turn south west and you should see the trig point. I proceeded a little past the trig point to be on the right side of the hill for 2m operations.
After a quick four contacts, again assisted by Peter VK3PF doing the repeater ring around (and he even did my logging for me from the comfort of his Churchill QTH), it was time to turn around and head back. At least with a HT only activaiton, it is real easy to get started and to pack up!
I was glad to get back to the car and into dry clothes, but by then the rain had stopped! Tis the way it goes.