I’ve gone off again on one of these three day trips and activated 6 summits. Some say SOTA is a drug of addiction. Where do I get my next hit? Worse, am I a drug pusher because I took Glenn VK3YY and Kevin VK3KAB along, and helped them get 60 SOTA activator points each? Well, Glenn has already done quite a bit of SOTA work before, but Kevin was a first timer.
After a few hiccups, we left the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne before 6pm and headed towards the hills. After a stop, which involved a stop at a cardboard food production facility for dinner, we headed up the Licola Rd as dusk set in. Kevin drove his “Great Wall” 4WD and we made it to a campsite along the Wellington River inside the boundary of the Alpine National Park for an overnight stop. The tables were a nice touch at the campground (photo courtesy Glenn)
Mt Tamboritha VK3/VT-011
It was only a short drive from there up the hill to the start of the walk to the summit. We then headed up to the Tamboritha saddle. We were able to go along the 4WD track to the east of the summit, but parked before the rough stuff. We walked along the WX station track, but left it at the marker which is to the north of the summit. It was a steady climb from there up to the top, but Mt Tamboritha has a flat top, with the highest point at the southern end. Anywhere on the flat top would be in the activation zone.
On this trip, Glenn brought his end fed half wave for 40m with squid pole, Kevin brought an antenna made up of various Buddypole components to form essentially a Buddistick with a single counterpoise, and I brought a squid pole with two antenna combinations. One was my end fed for 40 and 20, and the other was some components from my old aluminium segment vertical with loading coil, plus a new piece of wire that could hang on the squid pole to complete the vertical. This second configuration was to be used for the first four activations on this trip. It is perhaps 30cm longer than my old vertical configuration. I used it with tuner right on the feed point, with a tapped loading coil 1.6m above the feed point. The Ugly Balun which I have described here was also in attendance. This antenna is a little behind the end fed when the other station is in the end fed lobe, but it is still a solid performer; being able to achieve 5 by 8 to the occasional 5 by 9 report. It does give a lower angle of radiation to open potential DX opportunities, however, and this is something the end-fed struggles with.
The main downside of the vertical is that it simply takes longer to put up and take down than the end fed which is 1) couple to the end of the squid pole, 2) raise squid pole, 3) tie wire ends to something, 4) connect radio. The vertical needs still to be connected together, mount the loading coil and run out the radials. I think the squid pole allows me to take off a good 10 to 15 minutes, but it still takes about 30 minutes to setup and 20 minutes to take down. Better than 45 minutes setup and 30 minutes takedown, but not as good as 15 minutes and 10.
Glenn got the good oil on contacts first. Kevin spent some time tuning his Buddi(stick) setup, but Glenns transmissions nearby upset his antenna analyser. In the end, we all got our contacts, my 4th was with Glenn after he left the summit, but then I got a 5th with a FM simplex station on 2m over 150km away setting up for a field day contest happening the following day. I left the summit with a spring in my step.
Here’s a picture of me operating from the summit (courtesy Glenn). The radials of the vertical are somewhat visible, and some of the ratchet band can be seen on the tree, with the base of the squid pole at the ground.
Here’s a look from the east of the summit.
We headed down much the way we came, but ended up on a track a little to the west of the marked trail, about 100m it worked out. It took us past the WX station and onto the 4WD access track, with the car parked about 700m further away.
Mt Reynard VK3/VT002
Rejoining the Tamboritha Rd, we headed up to the junction with the Mt Howitt Rd and then towards its closest point to Mt Reynard. There was a 4WD track that initially headed a little closer, and then headed south west. Still this enabled us to miss a cliff face. We parked the car at a point where the road began to move further away from the track. Based on the trip, it can be speculated that a walking track to the summit may exist from this road much further along, but I am not sure about this.
After leaving the car, we headed up and over high ground. There was a great deal of fallen timber, which slowed progress somewhat. We crossed a water course, at a point with a bearing of 100 degrees true from the summit, and then began the climb up, which was mostly a comfortable gradient – but with a few kicks. The total trip was about 3km each way, but mostly off track. We did find a track coming up to the summit from the south when we were still about 50m vertical metres down. This track runs off to the south, and it would seem (but completely unconfirmed) that this might end up on the 4WD track that we parked on, but a few km further along.
Mt Reynard has a very large flat top, more than 1.5km long, with a variance of less than 10m. We decided to activate near the eastern end of this, about 4 metres down from the top, but more than 1km horizontal distance! Again, I used a vertical configuration and Glenn his end fed. We also had a few interesting contacts on 2m FM simplex to spice things up. Something else that spiced things up was the large amount of ants at the summit. It seemed like there were nests everywhere. It does make it a bit hard to key CW when you are always trying also to brush ants off!
Here is a pic of Kevin and myself just below the activation area, with the camera looking south (courtesy Glenn).
Again, all three of us successfully activated, but this time (and for the rest of the trip), no one ran down the hill to provide a chase. We headed back down the track, but considering its southward direction, we left it and ended up using much the same access route, (bearing about 110 degrees true from the summit back to the 4WD track).
Bryces Plain VK3/VT-004
It was a little late in the day, and also Kevin was worried about the amount of fuel in the car in order to get back to Licola, but the opportunity of a third summit in the day lured us up the Howitt Rd. VK3/VT-004 is a little rise which is not far from the Howitt Rd. There is a reasonable road that actually goes all the way to the top, where there is a commercial tower with a large solar panel. Care was taken to park the car outside the activation zone, but it was only a short walk to the summit, especially when compared to all the other summits on this trip. This summit is an easy pickup, even with a 2WD. It was in the last hour before sunset when we activated. This time, there was a greater variance in our three logs, with me finally picking up some CW DX on 20 and 30 metres.
Here is a look at my vertical antenna:
And the sunset from the summit:
From there, we headed to McFarlane Saddle where we camped for the night. There were a few other campers here, plus a group that arrived at 9:30pm who immediately left to head down towards Lake Tali Karng. I would think that it makes for cool walking, but the views are not as good by torchlight.
Trapyard Hill VK3/VT-005
Next morning, we pushed back our planned departure time by 30 minutes, accounting for the late finish the previous evening (because we stretched for the third summit). The Forest Explorer map shows two tracks leaving McFarlane saddle, but there appears to be only one on the ground, the east one – even though there is a Parks Victoria sign on this track that shows one track – the west one (wrong one)! The track from a junction about 500m south where a track heads eastwards before Trapyard Hill is true, but the track is quite overgrown and is indistinct when heading across the saddle at point 1442, grid reference 876521 (55H 0487600E 5852100N for those who are unfamiliar with 6 digit grid references – but if you compare the two, you should be able to identify which 6 digits go into the short form). From here there is a first rise, and the track heads up towards the right of this to the flatter ground above. It climbs the summit to its left, missing the summit itself, with the track passing to the north. We left the track underneath the summit, heading up approaching from the north west. It was a steep climb, but not technically difficult. Attempting this summit is easier with a walking stick.
Once at the summit, I ended up getting all my contacts using Glenn’s radio with his end fed setup. I did get my antenna up, but my first attempt did not work with the tree that I strapped the squid pole onto. I got no joy on 20m CW, but the signal was spotted through the reverse beacon network.
Glenn got a pic of me raising my squid pole (strapped to a better tree stump):
From there, it was back to camp, but this time from the saddle at reference 876521, we headed north down to the Moroka Rd. It was only about 100m away from the saddle. We then walked along the road, with a little bit of passing car dust, back to our awaiting tents. We packed these up, with the pack carry part of the trip about to start.
Picture Point range VK3/VT-003
Now with full packs, it was time to head down the Wellington Plains towards the Picture Point range. Conditions had now become quite hot and the group started to wonder about carrying all of our gear up the mountain. Something else was playing on our minds – the VHF/UHF field day contest. This might mean that a 2/6m activation might make some sense, especially carrying up a FT-817 to give us some 144.15 SSB capability. Still, I decided to carry up my end fed wire, but without a squid pole. It is closer to the ground, and the reports from this setup are not as good, but it does get the contact. Besides, although we appreciate every contact, having a contact with the dedicated SOTAite chasers is worth more to us than some big gun field day station. Sorry, VK3ER/P. 🙂
In the end, we had a clear 2m simplex contact with VK3PF. Considering we could see the Latrobe Valley from the operating location, this made sense. Peter was going to ring around the repeaters to drum up some further action, but it was not to be. I managed a 2m FM contact with Jack VK3WWW operating VK3ER/P on 2m. Jack seemed pretty happy with the contact. HamGPS, an Android app, was used on my phone to determine the 6 digit maidenhead location of the operating QTH for contest purposes. We handed out the numbers, but we did not consider ourselves contest participants. The focus was ensuring that we all left with 10 SOTA activation points, which we did.
Here’s a pic of Kevin operating at VK3/VT-003. You may be able to make out the end fed half wave on 40m strung in the trees behind him, but you may need to click the picture for a higher res view – note you can do this on all pics on this blog:
On the way back down, we saw this view of the Wellington Plains:
We made our way back to the packs on the Wellington Plains track, and then headed down to our campsite, at grid reference 839462. There is a toilet and a water tank here. Unfortunately the tap on the water tank was broken, so the tank was empty. This meant we had to do a water run down to the nearby Nigothoruk Creek. There was good flowing water down here.
Using a SteriPen
I should mention that after my recent 6 summit trip around Mt Speculation, I believe that I contracted Giardisis from the water I drunk there. It took 8 days for symptoms to show. I thought first that I had Gastro, but it was much worse than that, with the acute phase lasting about 4 days. It has not been diagnosed, but apparently, it is not easy to medically diagnose as the link discusses. Whatever happened, I did not want to experience it again, so I purchased a SteriPEN adventurer Opti. These take 90 seconds to treat 1 litre of water, and I think I can live with that. The SteriPen got its first use with the water from the Nigothoruk Creek. The UV treatment does not change the taste of the water – which this water tastes fantastic.
Wellington Plateau VK3/VT-007 and the Sentinels
The next morning, we headed off early to get our last activation. The Wellington Plateau is a flat top, but there is a small rise to the highest point. We activated just to the east of this, near the 4WD track. This meant that it would be harder to get VHF/UHF field day contacts, unlike from VK3/VT-003, but Kevin did work VK3ER/p on 6m.
Speaking of the 4WD track, yes it is possible to get a car in to this point, but it would take a great deal of effort. The track is very poor, so a very high clearance vehicle would be needed. Also, the access point is through Miller Gap. It would be an adventurous drive!
After wrapping up the activation, we headed down to the nearby Sentinels, which overlook Lake Tali Karng. It’s a great view from up there, but a little hard to get in the pics:
We met a Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC) group that had walked up directly off-track from the lake. It took them about 3 hours to make the 600 vertical metres climb. Tough work with full packs – although these packs did not have any radio gear in them. We kept the full packs only for the trip into and out of our overnight camping spot, only carrying limited food, water, and of course radio gear for the trips to mountain tops for SOTA activating.
After the Sentinels, it was back to camp for lunch, quickly take down the tents, and a walk with the full packs for about 9km back to the car at McFarlane Saddle. It was hot work and we certainly appreciated getting back to the car, and getting to Licola for a fuel topup – that’s both petrol for the car and icecream for other refuelling purposes. It was a great trip and lots of fun for 60 SOTA points.