After getting back from a camping trip, which included a SOTA activation of Rocky Peak, I was off the next day on a planned VMTC trip to a range of high mountains to the south east of Mt Buller. The plan was to take in part of the Australian Alpine Walking Track which I had not done before. I only had two takers for the trip, so there were three of us in total. The VMTC requires four for an official club trip and we were one short, so this turned into a private trip. My plan was to activate for Summits on the Air a series of mountains that were taken in by the walk.
The day started with a 7am pickup of a walker from the train station, and then we headed up to join another walker up in the Howqua Hills at 8 Mile Gap (506792). From here, we headed down Brocks Rd to the Jameson River. This is marked as a 4wd track, but it is maintained to a high standard, so no problems with a 2wd. We then drove up Low Saddle Rd. The standard of this road is not as high, but I was able to get the Prius to point 513754, which would take a bit off the walk on the last day. We then piled into a 4wd for a car shuffle and took the Refrigerator Gap Track up to Refrigerator Gap and the carpark for the walk up to the Bluff.
The Bluff VK3/VE-013
The Bluff is a shortish, but quite steep climb up from the Refrigerator Gap car park. Over 400m is gained from the car park over about 1km horizontal distance. Towards the top it becomes a little scrambly. I had to negotiate the squid pole a few times, but it was not too bad. The plan was to have lunch here, so my fellow bushwalkers would have their break while I operated radio. One little problem was that I did not bring anything to secure the squid pole, and there was no trees at the operating location. I used the base of a rock and my backpack to secure the squid pole, as shown:
Squid pole at The Bluff
I used a Wouxun KG-UVD1P handheld radio for FM and a FT-817 for other modes. Using the Wouxun allows me to save the FT-817 batteries. Because the FT-817 is an all mode radio, its amplifier is linear, and not as efficient as the Class C amplifier in the Wouxun. I use a BNC adapter on the Wouxun, so I was able to change the antenna from one to the other radio with ease.
The activation was performed with my colinear. I decided not to do the match yet (as discussed in the linked article) as I wanted to make the stub with BNC connectors which I am waiting for an order of these to arrive. The unmatched colinear has a poor, but not unusable match. The FT-817 would reduce power a little, but this level of mismatch (between 2 to 3) would not damage the finals. I estimate it would be 4dB or so down on a fully matched performance. Still worthwhile to give it a go and also to compare its performance to when I do have it fully matched.
It certainly does perform. I know some think that I would be better off with a Yagi, but for this kind of walking, this colinear does hit the spot. I tried it against a few repeaters and would give it at least 15dB ahead of a quarter wave whip antenna. One repeater was very scratchy on the quarter wave, I could barely break the squelch, but with the colinear, it was nearly (not quite) full quieting. Being omni-directional on the horizontal plane is also a bonus.
In the end, I was able to work into Melbourne, and looking back at the results, I was about 5dB down on what I would have expected from an optimised colinear. I think I’ll gain most of that with the match. I was also working a few stations well away from Melbourne.
Here are some pics from The Bluff:
Looking west from The Bluff
Looking east from The Bluff
Mt Lovick VK3/VE-020
After lunch, it was time to head off The Bluff and head for Mt Eadley, Bluff Hut and then Mt Lovick. There are two tracks marked passing Mt Eadley Stony, but we only found the higher track. The Bluff Hut has been rebuilt after the 2006 fires, but is not used as part of the cattle muster as cattle are now banned from the Alpine National Park. It was fairly late in the day when we made Mt Lovick and we camped almost right on the summit, far enough away for some dirt to put tent pegs in.
Camping at Mt Lovick
I tried 2m again from here. I was able to complete 2 QSOs using FM, and then 1 contact with VK3AFW using CW. I then went to 40m to get the last contact required for activation – plus a pile more.
Here are a few late evening pics from the summit:
The King Billies from Mt LOvick
The Nobs and Mt McDonald from Mt Lovick
Mt Clear VK3/VE-018
Up the next morning, Sunday the 30th. We left about 9 and headed for the King Billies. Our first water stop was from the headwaters of the Jamison River, just underneath Picture Point at 634832. I treated the water with the SteriPen Adventurer (a UV treatment), another walker, Adrian used tablets, while the third, Clive, drank it untreated. I still reckon that the chances of getting sick are low, but because I have been sick from drinking high country water, I don’t take that chance.
We arrived at King Billy No 1 and had lunch there. I wanted to save my operating capacity (i.e. batteries) for summits that I could get SOTA points for, so this went begging. I activated this earlier in the year, late at night and in the fog. I was able to see my old operating location, just underneath the summit. Here’s a look at Mt Magdela (Marjorie VK3/VE-012) and the Cross Cut Saw to the left from King Billy No 1 VK3/VE-016.
Mt Magdela from King Billy No 1
With lunch done, we followed the quite indistinct path to King Billy No 2, and then lost the path and made our way to the road junction at 650812. From here, there is a management vehicle track (with trees fallen over it) heading down towards Mt Clear. We drew water at 642787 and made our way to the base of Mt Clear. The management track leaves to the west, and the start of the walking only track is a little unclear. This is at 627766. From here, the track climbs quite steeply, but not quite as steep as the track up The Bluff. Still a good effort for late in the day. We arrived at the summit and camped within a few metres of the summit.
I attempted activating VK3/VE-018 on 2m, but had no success either on FM or SSB. It was then over to 40m using the end-fed, where there was no difficulty. With the end-fed, 40m is the old reliable.
Here’s a pic of Mt Buller, Mt Sterling, Mt Lovick (closer) and Mt Cobbler from Mt Clear. All of these mountains are SOTA summits.
Looking north west from Mt Clear
The Nobs VK3/VE-040
The next day, it was up for an 8:30 walking start. First task of the day was to get a water top up. I only had a small amount left, and some of the party was dry. We obtained this at 617729, where the creek was about to descend rapidly down the side of the mountain. From there, it was following the indistinct path down from Square Top and towards High Cone. High Cone appears to have exactly 150m prominence, so it will become a SOTA summit someday, but it is not one at the moment. There is a bypass track around High Cone, so we took this. It’s more of a route as the track is quite indistinct. It follows just above a set of small cliffs. One gotcha with this mountain is where the spur comes down, the track continues to contour around. We headed down the spur at that point for about 15 minutes before we realised our mistake. We then worked our way around to the right spur, but this took more energy and time. It was a late lunch when we arrived at the Nobs.
Given the lateness, I decided that I would only do 40m on the summit. I activated the summit quickly, but disturbed a large number of insects nesting in a tree where I was setting up the squid pole.
Mt McDonald VK3/VE-026
From The Nobs, it was a quick drop down along the still at hard to follow at times track towards a 4wd track. We headed along this to where the walking track leaves it to head up Mt McDonald. We needed water for the night camp, and so we headed down the 4wd track to get water. We got it from the second creek at 543729, but we had to go in about 10m from the road and burrow into what was almost a little cave to get it. This took quite a lot of time, and meant we would get to the top of Mt McDonald very late in the day. It was a lot of effort getting up, and the effects of the long day were definitely having an impact. We lost the track at one point and tried to sidle around the side, but this was very hard work, and felt dangerous. I then climbed up a very steep section to regain the track that was on the tops. If climbing Mt McDonald from the east, try to stay on top of the ridge if you don’t know where the track is.
We arrived with about one hour of light left at the summit. I was pretty exhausted, but I still wanted the SOTA points for all this effort. I setup the tent and then the amateur radio station:
Camp site and operating location at Mt McDonald
The views from all the summits that I had visited so far on this trip had been spectacular, but a great deal of the southern high country can be seen from Mt McDonald, including Mt Donna Buang, Mt Torbreck, Mt Baw Baw, Mt Abrupt, Mt Alexander (near Bendigo), Mt Hickey, Mt Buller, Mt Howitt, Mt Cobber, plus most stuff around Licola. Here’s a view looking back towards The Nobs and Mt Clear:
Mt Clear, Square Top, High Cone and The Nobs from Mt McDonald
It was a great way to see out 2012 with the views we had from up there.
Mt Sunday VK3/VE-050
The final summit for the trip was Mt Sunday. The SOTA program works on UTC time, and a summit can be activated for points basically once a year. There was an opportunity to activate this summit twice, before UTC midnight (11am local) and then after. It was break camp at 6:50am to give myself a chance to do this. The other guys were completely disinterested in the radio part, but appreciated walking in the cooler time of the day. It was about an hour in that I realised that I might not make it to Mt Sunday in time, so I had to burn rubber. I walked very quickly down the track – which was easier to follow on this side of the mountain. I made Low Saddle at 506678 and left my pack there. The top of my pack converts into a little day pack, so there was enough room for the FT-817, the end-fed cable, a coax cable, the microphone, a notepad and a bottle of water, a LiIon battery and that’s it. It was time to head up Mt Sunday. The track is a little indistinct to get started, but then was easy to follow. It has also had the fire regrowth slashed back. This might have been quite difficult to follow two years ago, but is changed now.
I arrived, after a hard climb, at 10:45am. I operated north-east from the summit, about 15 to 20 vertical metres down. The summit has lots of trees, recovered from the fire at the very top, but burnt to a crisp elsewhere. I hung up the end-fed in the regrowth saplings and began to operate 5 minutes before UTC midnight. I was able to get 7 contacts in that 5 minutes, three of them in 1 minute. I felt like a contest station there for a bit. I continued to operate after 11am local, but it was far more relaxed. It was also nice to work VK3AFW and VK3PF who where both activating summits on both sides of UTC midnight. 4 lots of s2s! At 11:30 it was time to pack up and start the long trip to the car. I arrived back at my pack at 12:20pm which had a note from the others that they left to head for the car at 11am. I was an hour and 20 minutes behind.
It took another 4 hours and 20 minutes to walk the 11.5km to the car. I had a lunch break, but I was very low on water. I found water in several creeks. The first was a little desperate and I am very glad I could UV treat it. The others tasted better. The effects of the previous day had again caught up with me, plus the big effort to get to Mt Sunday in time. I was pretty tired when I got to the car at 4:40pm. I started 1:20 behind, but lost another hour to them. They could not keep up with me earlier, but now I could not even nearly keep pace with them!
After that, it was a shuffle back to the other car at Refrigerator Gap underneath The Bluff. I realised I had left my CW keyer at Mt Lovick, a day’s walk behind, but Adrian agreed to drive up there as it is close to the 4wd track. That track certainly is for 4wd only. He was eyeing off the place for future family camping visits, but I am thankful that I was able to retrieve the keyer.
It was time then to head for Mansfield and a much needed feed. Never has a bottle of soft-drink tasted so good.