Sealers Cove camping

Hi all,

I’ve been to Sealers many times – first time as a Grade 6er on a family trip to the Prom.

In March of 2011, there was a major rain event at the Prom, where about 300mm of rain fell in 24 hours. Much of the Prom was then closed, and the Sealers Cove track was closed for around 2 years. This was my first look at this track after the rain event. I had been in other parts of the prom and had seen creek beds gorged out, so I was expecting some interesting sights.

A good deal of the track had to be rebuilt. This is a look at the switchback section west of Windy Saddle:

Sealers Cove track at the switchback

Sealers Cove track at the switchback

The top soil was all cleaned away, back to the bare rock. Further down the hill, it looked like about 5m of soil had been removed.

The old Ferny Glade does not exist. The track was rerouted about 150m downstream from the old site, but there is no point going there – what remains of it can be seen from where the track now crosses the creek. The whole site slid down the hill. A big gully of about 10m of soil was removed. The track now heads down to the creek and then climbs on steps back out again to rejoin the old track.

Sealers Cove itself is as beautiful as always:

Sealers Cove beach

Sealers Cove beach

We crossed the creek at low tide, I was able to walk through the river without taking my boots off, and my feet remained dry.

We had time to head up to the lookouts near Horn Point. With the clouds coming in over the Cathedral Range, it looked quite wild. The Prom can be moody!

Clouds over the Cathedral from near Horn Point

Clouds over the Cathedral from near Horn Point

We stayed overnight in the Sealers camp site, and headed back towards the Telegraph Saddle carpark. This time we crossed the creek about halfway between low and high tide. The crossing was about 70cm deep. I would estimate it gets up to about 1.5m at high tide – you would have to either wait or float the packs across.

All in all, a nice 2 day trip for the family – and I then got to go up Mt Oberon for a little bit of Summits on the Air.

Regards, Wayne

VK1 wilderness trip

Hi all,

I went out on an extended 4 day walk this last weekend. The aim of the trip was to visit a series of remote wilderness areas in the Bimberi Wilderness. This area contains many high value summits in the VK1 / ACT area for Summits on the Air, and my plans were to activate 10 of these summits.

Mt Ginini VK1/AC-008

Mt Ginini is located about halfway down the western side of the ACT border with New South Wales. There is a road coming in from Canberra, and another through the Brindabellas from Tumut. Coming from Melbourne, the Tumut access route was the one I chose, and the road is sealed, except for about 30km. It is a good high standard gravel for the rest. Some of these sections are steep, but some seal has been put down for the worst parts. Due to this, even in poor weather, this road could still be passable in a 2WD. Mt Franklin Rd can be accessed from these roads, and this goes through several gates (locked in winter) through to the summit. One can drive right to the top, so I turned around and drove down about 50 vertical metres to ensure I was well out of the SOTA activation zone.

I put up the 2m colinear, which was attached to the fence of the Air Services Australia site. The metal did seem to affect the feedpoint impedance of the antenna a little, but it still worked quite well. I put out a call on a repeater that services the VK1 area, VK1RGI. This repeater itself is located at Mt Ginini. A number of stations came back, most of which would become like old friends over the coming days.

Here’s a look at the peak in the late dusk light:

Late dusk light at Mt Ginini summit

Mt Ginini

With that, and a few big days ahead, I drove down to the track head near the summit for access further south. I camped there the night for a early 6:45am departure the following morning.

Mt Gingera VK1/AC-002

This summit is the most accessible 10 point summit in VK1. Access is via a continuation of Mt Franklin Rd as a MVO track. It’s about 5km to the start of a walking track that heads up to the summit. I dropped my phone on the track, and that was my camera – so no photos. I did recover it on the way back down – so at least there are more photos to come. I did at least get a picture of Pryor’s Hut.

The summit has a few small boulders plus some low snow gums, so it was reasonably sheltered from the wind. There are good views to the south west from here, with Mt Jagungal clearly visible. I remember doing an activation of that mountain a few years ago, but those were pre-SOTA days. It awaits my return when SOTA comes to VK2.

Again, the 2m colinear worked well here, and the VK1 chasers came up quick after a call was put out on VK1RGI. The feedpoint impedance of the 2m colinear was back to normal, with the FT-817 showing zero SWR bars most of the time.

Mt Ginger Ale VK1/AC-007

This summit is also accessible from what is now the Mt Franklin fire trail. Apparently this track is to be upgraded for fire management purposes, but I do not imagine that it will be opened to vehicles.

There is no track to the actual summit. I walked to a point about 700m south of Blackfellow’s gap, where the track stopped climbing and dropped my pack there. The top of my pack can be used as a small day pack, so I had my radio gear in there for the climb up to the summit, using the squid pole as a walking pole. It’s not as good as a real walking pole as a walking pole.

It’s about 260m vertical climbing through light scrub to the summit. There’s a few false tops along the way. Here’s a pic taken near the summit:

North east from Ginger Ale

North east from Ginger Ale

I worked Andrew, VK1NAM from VK1/AC-021 on the way up, just before UTC midnight, and then again summit to summit from the top. Again, the colinear worked a treat as it would until near the very end (it still worked, it just was a little sore from the beating it was to take)

I could hear VK3AFW calling for me on VHF CW, but he could not hear me. It was still a highlight to hear such a DX signal coming in.

Bimberi Peak VK1/AC-001

Next up was the ACT’s highest summit. First on the agenda was to draw water, which I did so at the junction of Laura Gap Trail and Mt Franklin Fire Trail. The next item, how to access the summit. Options were: 1) to take Leura Gap Trail up to the gap from the junction of Mt Franklin Fire Trail, 2) to go straight up from the junction, or 3) go about 1km to the east on Leura Gap Trail and take the next spur up. I went for option 2. I still am not sure about how options 1 or 3 would go. It was thick going with different types of scrub transitioning at 1400m and then some real rocky progress at around 1700m. This really slowed me up. Above 1700m, it’s clear. By that stage, I was quite tired and was experiencing cramping. I had to take it slow and easy up to the summit, set up the tent and then activate the summit, again using the colinear on 2m.

Here’s looking north from about 1750m altitude:

Looking north from Bimberi Peak

Looking north from Bimberi Peak

I did finally make the summit itself:

Camping and operating from Bimberi Peak summit

Camping and operating from Bimberi Peak summit

And here’s the view in the very late light.

Looking north from Bimberi Peak summit at late dusk

Looking north from Bimberi Peak summit

Mt Murray VK1/AC-003

And so the tour continues. I aimed to leave on first light and headed down, first a little to the west of the spur, but I made my way back on. The trick would be to leave south east, not south from the summit. It was good progress with light to medium forest down to Murray Gap. Much easier going than the previous day. Down there, I met some campers who were planning on ascending Bimberi Peak. Parks management had recently put a new sign in to mark Murray Gap, and hid the old one in a few trees:

Old sign for Murray Gap

Old sign for Murray Gap

I then headed straight up towards the summit of Mt Murray from there. It was steep, but the forest was open, so it was good progress right to the top. Here’s a view from the summit:

North east from Mt Murray

North east from Mt Murray

I then headed south east to a marked stream to get some water and then headed towards Yaouk Gap. The scrub started getting bad at around grid ref 632463, and it was just short of 2km of scrubby stuff which took about 2 hours to get to Yaouk Gap. Not looking good for Mt Scabby tonight.

Mt Scabby VK1/AC-005

From Yaouk Gap, this could be accessed by traversing along the ACT/NSW border which goes along Scabby Range, or heading south into NSW on Kennedy’s Rd – although I am not sure if some of this is on private land. Maurice Luton Trail proceeds parallel to Scabby Range and gets within 2k of the summit (but all the climbing still needs to be done). The climbing part is a moderate to heavy scrub bash all the way up. Going along Scabby Range is worse, some parts in there were not good at all, with progress down to 500m/hour. With so much time lost, I had to give up on activating Mt Scabby on the Saturday, instead aiming to make camp near water and activate the summit first thing the following morning. I ended up getting into the head waters of the Cotter River, just below the summit at 8:30pm and made camp there, well after dark.

The next morning, it was just a short walk up from camp to the SOTA summit.

Here’s a look at where I camped:

Camping underneath Mt Scabby

Camping underneath Mt Scabby

There was a VHF DX net on 144.2 that morning. I could hear many VK3 stations, but I could not work any of them. There were a few distant VK2’ers that went in the log, aside from the usual. I could not hear VK3HRA, but VK1NAM worked him on aircraft enhancement that morning.

Mt Kelly VK1/AC-004

Onward we go to Mt Kelly. Progress here was faster than yesterday, with odd scrubby sections, but mostly open. Here’s looking north from the Mt Scabby area towards Mt Kelly:

Mt Kelly from near Mt Scabby

Mt Kelly from near Mt Scabby

There is a lake marked at 688430, but it was dry. I had planned to camp here, lucky I didn’t. There was some water about 500m to the south, and likely water 500m to the north west.

From there it was moderate going up to Mt Kelly. Progress seemed to be faster on the western side of the ridge. There were some nice views from the summit:

South east from Mt Kelly

South east from Mt Kelly

After the activation, again using the 2m colinear, I headed down the eastern slopes of Mt Kelly. The scrub was thick in places, but it is easier going down than up. There was a large open area between Mt Kelly and Mt Namadgi called Rotton Swamp. It was not really a swamp, and the water I got from there was quite nice.

Mt Namadgi VK1/AC-006

From Rotton Swamp, it was time to head up Mt Namadgi. There seemed no obvious good way up, and the scrub was simply shocking in places, with progress down to a metre a minute at times. After about 2 hours of scratches, bashing and feeling exhausted, I found a large rock face to start heading up. The last 100m vertical was very steep, but progress was much faster than the scrub lower down. With significant time lost, I decided not to get out the colinear for this activation, instead activating simply using the handheld with it’s 1/4 wave antenna on FM only. This was more than enough.

I got this nice view of Mt Burbridge and “Rotton Swamp” on the higher slopes of Mt Namadgi:

Mt Burbidge and Rotton Swamp from Mt Namadgi

Mt Burbidge and Rotton Swamp from Mt Namadgi

Mt Scabby can be seen in the above pic, in the centre but in the distance.

Here’s the view looking north from Mt Namadgi:

North from Mt Namadgi

North from Mt Namadgi

Before dropping off the summit plateau, I found this interesting Aboriginal site, which you can read the sign for yourself:

Aboriginal initiation site on Mt Namadgi

Aboriginal initiation site on Mt Namadgi

Interpretive sign at Aboriginal initiation site

Interpretive sign at Aboriginal initiation site

With that, it was a drop down into the next valley to camp for the night. It was tough going to get started, but then the forest moderated. It was not open forest, but certainly less bad than what had been experienced earlier. It was good to have a little rag chew with Matt VK1MA on the VK1RGI repeater from inside the tent after another long hard day.

Mt Mavis VK1/AC-011

Next morning, up to leave at first light and to climb Mt Mavis. The first part of the climb was semi-open forest, but it didn’t last. The top of the mountain was not open, with heavy thick scrub, with lots of dead wood to make it harder. I ended up activating on a large bolder.

Activating at Mt Mavis

Activating at Mt Mavis

The colinear showed some signs of wear and tear at this activation, with a short developing. I was able to massage it to keep it working. The fix will be straight forward, by further reinforcing the joins on the 1/4 wave aluminium pole that joins at the feedpoint. It is this section, rather than all the soldered inner conductor to shield solder joins, which takes much of the physical stress, both in deploying the device, and during the large amount of scrub bashing that had been going on. I also secured the coax using some tape against the other end of the 1/4 wave pole to reduce the stress on this connection, and that had failed. I’ll just use more tape to make it physically secure, but still, this thing had preformed well – it still did this activation here – and it had taken an incredible amount of physical punishment.

A note about the squid pole. I had long lost the rubber stop at the end, but had replaced this with a rubber foot for chairs that Bunnings sells. That works much better for scrub bashing. I also put the squid pole in a 1m 50mm PVC pipe to protect it, and given all the scratches on this pipe, it is doing it’s job! I have reinforced the top and bottom of the largest squid pole section with tape. Even with all the scrub punishment, the squid pole shows no sign of harm.

After the activation finished, it was time to get out. I had hoped to work Micheal VK1XYZ from Bimbiri Peak s2s, but it was not to be.

Here’s a last look at the top:

Summit area of Mt Mavis

Summit area of Mt Mavis

Getting out meant dropping down from the summit, aiming for grid ref 744501 in the valley. I ended up working Michael from Bimberi Peak after 45 min of descending. I was very surprised about this because I was on the wrong side of Mt Mavis from him. It was a weak but readable signal. I also expected to lose the VK1RGI repeater, but did not lose it at any time. It was weakest at Murray Gap (with Bimberi Peak in the way), but still 1 watt from the HT from there could easily open it, I’m sure 5 watts would be readable.

It took nearly three hours to get down, with heavy scrub nearly the whole way over a 600m drop. The valley was easy going, with good water in the river. The track also goes up the valley further than marked on my map. I picked it up at around 750496. It crosses the (then small) river twice, but ends up on the western side of the valley heading downstream. Here’s a look at the lower valley:

Large open valley

Heading home down the valley

From there it was not long before Andrew VK1NAM and myself caught sight of each other. He had come to pick me up and ferry me back to the car. It was a change of plan from the original, but neither AC-006 or AC-011 would have been possible without it.

It was quite a big trip, with some days having nearly 12 hours of walking, but the summits are in the log, the views in the memory and taken with the camera, and that’s what counts.

Regards, 73 Wayne VK3WAM

Postscript: Equipment review

I took up three 2.2Ah LiPOs and used just short of two of them. One activation was done on the internal battery, which was used up about 50%. The Mt Ginini activation was done using a 18650 Lithum Ion pack, which I generally use on QRP activations, but that was not far from the car. I did that to keep the three LiPOs fresh for the pack carry part. The radio was a FT-817, generally operated at 5W.

I used a Wouxun HT for my comms to the VK1RGI repeater. By the end of the trip, I had gone through two 1400mAh packs, and had started on a 1700mAh pack. Most of the time I had this on 1 watt for the repeater, and 146.5 FM simplex at 5 watts. I really only used it on Mt Namadgi for actual activations, plus a few ones to chase others while I was transiting between peaks.

Sorry to the VK3 guys who might wanted to have got these summits. I would not carry a yagi for horizontal polorisation into this country. I did have the end-fed for 40m, but time did not permit putting it up.

Mitchell River National Park

Hi all,

The weekend of the 9th, 10th and 11th is a long weekend in Victoria with Monday being Labour Day. It had been awhile since I had gone camping with the family, so we settled on going up to Mitchell River NP to check it out. My mum also decided to tag along. It ended up that my wife, Lindy, had agreed to play in a concert on the Sunday afternoon, so there went the family camping trip. Still I headed up with my 6 year old son, Simon and my mum, Kathleen.

We were initially undecided if we would camp at Billy Goat Bend, in the middle of the park, or Angusvale up the north. Because of car access, we decided to go with Angusvale, even though it would be more open. Kathleen was up early and decided on a campsite under some trees away from the river. We had that area to ourselves with most of the other campers settling on campsites lower down near the river.

It was a hot weekend, so we tried to do most of our active activities in the morning. On the Saturday morning, we all headed down to Billy Goat Bend and checked out the gorge that is located near there. Here are some pics:

Looking north at the Mitchell RIver from Billy Goat Ben lookout

Mitchell RIver from Billy Goat Ben lookout

Mitchell RIver a little downstream from Billy Goat Bend

Mitchell River from near Billy Goat Bend

On the road into Angusvale, there was a nice lookout that overlooked the valley. The campsite can be seen from the road coming down:

Angusvale from some nearby hills

Angusvale from some nearby hills

While staying there, we spent some time swimming in the river, and I also got the chance to head out to some nearby hills for a Summits on the Air activation. I also had the chance to operate from the park for a Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award activation.

On our last night in the park, there was some thunderstorm activity. There was a nice view of the clouds in the late afternoon light:

Clouds from Angusvale

Clouds from Angusvale

Due to the heat, we did not hang around for too long on the Monday. After packing up in the morning, it was a quick trip to Sale for lunch and then heading home before the worst of the traffic.

All in all, a nice long weekend.

Wayne Merry

The Bluff/Mt McDonald trip, New Years 2012/13

Hi all,

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.

Getting started

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 secured by a rock and a backpack

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 west from The Bluff

Looking east 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

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:

Looking east towards the King Billies from Mt Lovick

The King Billies from Mt LOvick

Looking south west towards The Nobs and Mt McDonald 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.

Looking east at Mt Magdela from King Billy No 1

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

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

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

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.

Wayne VK3WAM

South Gippsland 6 summit activation

Hi all,

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)

Kevin and Wayne at Wellington River campground

Kevin and Wayne at Wellington River campground

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.

Operating at Mt Tamboritha

Operating at Mt Tamboritha

Here’s a look from the east of the summit.

Looking east from Mt Tamboritha

Looking east from Mt Tamboritha

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).

Kevin and myself on Mt Reynard

Kevin and myself on Mt Reynard

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:

Vertical antenna at Mt Reynard

Vertical antenna at Bryces Plain

And the sunset from the summit:

Sunset from Bryces Plain

Sunset from Bryces Plain

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):

Wayne on Trapyard Hill

Wayne on Trapyard Hill

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:

Kevin operating on Picture Point range

Kevin operating on Picture Point range

On the way back down, we saw this view of the Wellington Plains:

Wellington Plains from Picture Point range

Wellington Plains from Picture Point range

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:

Lake Tali Karng from the Sentinels

Lake Tali Karng from the Sentinels


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.

Wayne Merry

BSAR Practice, 6 SOTA summits and Kieth Roget

Hi all,

Recently back from a 5 1/2 day trip up to near Mt Pilot for a Bush Search and Rescue Victoria training weekend and a six summit activation trip.

Chilton/Mt Pilot National Park

The Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award is focussed on working stations in or working from National Parks. The basic award requires 15 parks to be activated or worked for VK3’ers, 10 for other operators in VK, and 5 for DX operators. Over time, I intend to activate all 45 national parks.

My current status is shown on this Google map.

The BSAR practice was scheduled alongside a Victorian Rogaining Association rogaine near the Chilton/Mt Pilot National Park, so I took advantage of this by heading up the previous evening and activating the park. I used the end fed 20/40 wire, but this time, I gave my new squid pole a go. I prepared the squid pole by drilling a 1.5mm hole in the rubber stop at the end of the pole. This was enough to run a 1mm thick enamelled wire through the hole. I would then be able to wrap this around the antenna wire to secure it. It works out quite easy to put on and take off the antenna wire, but the connection is quite secure.

This was the first time I used a squid pole, so there were a few adventures in getting it up. My first attempt using a ratchet rope did not fare too well, so I just merely lent the squid pole up against a tree. The tree was much shorter than the pole – this approach worked well. I secured one end of the wire in another tree, about 1.5m off the ground, and the other end was dangling about 2m off the ground, with the feeding coax supporting it. I ran the coax (about a 10m run) through the back of the car up to the passenger seat, which I used as the operating location. This being a non SOTA activation, I can actually use the luxury of a wool covered car seat!

Here is a picture of the FT-817 in the car:
FT-817 in the car near Mt Pilot

I had only one contact, but that is all that is needed for a Keith Roget activation. Allen VK3HRA gave me 40 over 9! Not bad for a FT-817 on 5 watts!

Navigator’s dream Rogaine

After finishing up the activation, I drove on about 8km or so to where the Victorian Rogaining Association had arranged for their “Hash House” (the start finish location and where they provide food) for the rogaine. On the Friday night, this was just a few portable toilets and a few campers. It would be a very different matter on the next day – Saturday the 27th of October – when 250 people would descend on the place. Bush Search and Rescue had their own area to set up, and I was the only BSAR person there Friday night.

The following day, about 55 BSAR people were there, along with around 200 non BSAR rogaine participants + organisers, etc. The Police bus bringing BSAR people could not make it to the hash house, so a number of us had to do a mad dash to pick up the stranded passengers with our cars. In the end, we were able to complete our planning for the rogaine just in time for the pre-event breifing. I was competing with Sandra Bucovaz. We also had Peter Leech tag along as his own team had pulled out.

It all started ok, it is very important to get the first control under the belt, get the confidence happening. We had no problem with any of the controls during the day. About 4 hours in, we saw this massive Goanna. Here is a pic of Sandra looking at it:
Sandra and the Goanna

Here is a pic of Peter (on the right) and I at a control:
Peter and Wayne at Rogaine control

Our first control after dark was a maximum point value control. It was in a subtle gully (the course setter just loved those subtle features). We attacked it from above, after taking a bearing over 400m to steep ground. We would have been better taking a bearing about 20 less degrees to a flat part of ground and then coming in about 50m. There was over an hour of stuffing about until we finally got it. We really did think, do we cut our losses and get out of here, but we wanted those 100 points!

We visited a few more controls in the dark after that without any difficulty. I don’t think we were that much slower for them in the dark than what we would have been during daylight. BSAR wanted all of their teams to do some night rogaining because it helps develop search skills.

In the end, we came out with 1360 points which was 4th in the mixed (gender) category. If not for the stuffing around on the 100 point control, we might have even won the category. We would have never come first overall, as that would take beating he men like Merv Terese.

It was a quick, but substantial feed, from the food on offer at the hash house and into the tent at 1am Sunday morning. Still going to be a big day on Sunday.

BSAR practice

The VRA puts on breakfasts after rogaines that finish well into the night. This is to encourage tired rogainers not to leave and drive while tired. The result of this policy is I had a generous helping of sausages, bacon and eggs for breakfast. After this, the rogainers left, while BSAR got into search specific practice. Today was a briefing on radios, GPS units, line searching practice and a sked evacuation. I was asked to do part of the radio briefings.

BSAR use both UHF FM CB radios and VHF FM police radios. The CB radios is a class license available to the public. On most searches this is not a problem, but the public can interfere with search traffic. This has happened when a search was on a mountian top within line of sight of a major population area. Still, Police radio is a limited resource, and BSAR continue to use CB radios. They are typically used for group to group communication and intra-group. Often they ended up being used as a substitute for Police Radio. The Police radios are a Motorola 2 way radio with 5 watt capability. They are a standard issue across country police, still being analog based. There is talk of it going over to P25 at some stage, but this might be still a few years away. Most searches have support from Police Comms, who set up portable repeaters. Some searches have had two of these. Some searches have none, which means we end up on some divisional channel and get to hear about what divisional van is attending what break and enter event. Sounds exciting, but is very boring after a while and completely irrelevant to a search.

The simulated search was a line search. A line search is where a group of searches search in a line (hence the name) with the intention that the ground between each searcher is covered thoroughly. Unlike feature searching, there is no need for a subject to be able to talk or respond to calling. Line searching is much more thorough, but covers much less ground. BSAR searchers would spend less than 20% of total real search time doing line searches. Our group was searching a different area to where a (simulated) unconscious person was found. We were called over to assist with a sked evacuation. A sked is a stretcher that is also a sled. There are handles for 6 people to carry at a time, and it is hard work. In real life, if a sked evacuation was to occur over a longer distance, poles would need to be made up – and the sked kit has some saws in order for poles to be made from nearby trees.

After this, things wrapped up for the BSAR practice weekend, and it was time to head home for most.

Onwards to Mt Speculation VK3/VE-022

Given I was now in north east Victoria, I had planned to spend the next three days activating summits in the area. I had planned on a 8 summit trip, but after a hard 12 hour rogaine on the Saturday (with feet a bit sore), I thought I needed to take it down a notch. I headed off from the rogaine area and arrived at Lake Cobbler by about 4pm local. The road is a little rough on the final climb up to the lake, but still quite passable in a 2WD. I decided to park at the Lake Cobbler link track rather than by the hut at the lake itself. I then headed off for what I thought would be a 2 1/2 to 3 hour walk to Camp Creek near Mt Speculation.

It ended up being being about 3 1/2 hours as there must have been well over 100 trees fallen over the 4WD track. The track was due to open today (1st November), and no doubt 4WD’ers will be in there with chain saws to clear the road. Some of these fallen trees have trunks over 1 metre thick. It would take days to clear the road. I saw elsewhere that Parks Victoria had simply gone in with bulldozers and simply pushed the timber to one side. They might need a bulldozer to reopen Speculation Road.

Camp Creek was my water source for camping at Mt Speculation. After filling right up with 6 litres, enough for that night and most of the next day, it was up to the summit for activating. It was great local contacts, nothing DX. I again used the squid pole and the end fed wire, which was to be my setup for the rest of the trip. Here are some pics taken the next morning before I pulled down the antenna:

View 1 from Mt Speculation

View 2 from Mt Speculation

View 3 from Mt Speculation including Mt Cobbler

Mt Despair VK3/VE-043

After packing up the tent and heading off shortly after sunrise on the Monday, I used the Australian Alpine Walking Track heading north along the ridge, rather than using the old road heading north out of Camp Creek. The walking track is a little hard to follow, and I got off it a few times. It is a very steep descent heading down from the ridge to the old Jeep track heading towards Catherine Saddle. I think if I was going the other way, I would be heading through Camp Creek instead, much easier.

From Catherine Saddle, it’s back to walking track up to Mt Despair. The track is a little steep to start, but this section is quite short and it is mostly a gentle climb to the summit. A group had gone through and slashed back much of the regrowth, so the track is easy to follow. There is a number of fallen trees, but they were about every 150m or so, rather than a fallen tree every 30m disaster zone closer to Lake Cobbler.

I arrived at the summit and again set up the squid pole resting in a tree. Again lots of easy local contacts, no DX. I could hear some DX CW stations calling, but could not make out even whole characters. Seems to be a theme with this antenna. Mt Despair does not have many views, so I took no photos from here.

The Razor Vk3/VE-044

The track heads down, gently at first and then steeply to the saddle between Mt Despair and The Razor. The track at the saddle and onwards becomes much more rocky, up and down and scrambly. The fires have taken away much of the shade of this section. I don’t know if it is because I have done this track a few times before, or are more experienced, but I had little problems in following the track. There were a few sections that were badly overgrown, and it is not possible to rely only on track markers. The track makes its way up to a foothill of The Razor – a lower summit on the same ridge, before turing off towards Viking Saddle. I continued on towards The Razor. This section has had no love since the last fires and had no designated track. There is one small section of really tough regrowth, but towards the summit, it thins out. Mostly, it pays to stay about 20 metres below the ridge line as it is quite rough. I ended up operating about 15 vertical metres below the actual summit, but access up to the top was easy from there.

Again, good local contacts, but I at least got NS7P into the log with a workable signal. It was still weak, but I could at least hear real morse, rather than what I had been hearing before: a hint of a dit or a dah here and there, but nothing more. I think I will need the vertical back for real DX action!

Here are some pics from The Razor:
Operating from The Razor

Looking back towards Mt Despair and Mt Speculation:
Mt Despair and Mt Speculation from The Razor

Looking north east. Mt Bogong, Mt Feathertop and Mt Hotham are visible (if you know what to look for):
View north east from The Razor

With that, it was time to pack up and head back about 30 or so minutes to the track. Seemed easier going the other way. The Australian Alpine Walking Track heads south east from a minor hill on The Razor ridge towards Viking Saddle. This section of track had been slashed, so it was fairly easy going. It was much, much easier than last time I was here. I got into Viking Saddle and made camp. There is a track heading north east from here down to a spring. Water was flowing so it was reasonably easy water trip and I drew enough to get me through camp and the next day when I intended to return to Camp Creek.

The Viking VK3/VE-037

Up early the next morning for The Viking activation. This time, I left the tent and most of my gear, only needing to carry a first aid kit, the FT-817, batteries, misc radio gear, the antenna and the squid pole (and of course the backpack and some water) up the mountain for the activation. There is a 3m rock climb on the way up, but this is fairly easy. I did not even need to take my pack off either on the ascent, or when I descended back the same way. I arrived around 8am and then setup the squid pole almost right at the summit. Again, easy local contacts, no luck on DX. Here are some pics:

Antenna at The Viking

Part of the Cross Cut Saw, Mt Buggery, Mt Speculation and Mt Despair (lower right) from The Viking:
Mt Buggery and Mt Speculation from The Viking

Mt Cobbler (left centre) and The Razor (lower right) from The Viking:
Mt Cobbler and The Razor from The Viking

After this, I packed up, headed back down to Viking Saddle and there packed up the tent. My plan was to go to Camp Creek, back along The Razor ridge (but only on the AAWT avoiding the summit), over Mt Despair, and then using the old vehicle track from Catherine Saddle up to Camp Creek. I arrived at 4pm. I had then decided to go for a longer day and try to camp just underneath Mt Cobbler, at the junction of the track that comes up from Lake Cobbler. I estimated this might take another 3 walking hours. It would be a big day, but it would give me the convenience of leaving the tent where I camped, rather than hauling it up the mountain. I ended up doing this, after going over all of those fallen trees on the Speculation Road. There were plenty of trees on the walking track from near the Lake Cobbler track/Speculation Road junction as well. As I approached the ridge line, it was more pleasant walking, even though I was now very tired. I made camp just on dusk at the track junction.

Mt Cobbler VK3/VE-027

Next morning (the last of the trip), up early again and headed up the mountain. The summit is separated from the rest of the high part of the mountain by a small little drop. This must be crossed to get into the activation zone, but it is quite easy to do. I operated just below the summit. It was plenty of contacts, but local only. Some more pics:

The first pic has all of the summits I had activated up to now in the picture. Here I did not rest the pole up against a tree, but secured it with a ratchet:Operating from Mt Cobbler

We have Mt Buller, Mt Stirling and even Mt Torbreck poking up in the distance. I’ve shown you most of the Victorian high country on this trip!
Mt Buller, Mt Stirling and Mt Torbreck from Mt Cobbler

It was time to head back down to the tent about 40 minutes away, pack up and head down to the awaiting car. This took much longer because of the large number of fallen trees. It was nice to finally make it, but there was a fallen sign about the dangers of all of the fallen trees at the track head. No such sign at other start of the track system that I used. It is not so dangerous as just being inconvenient, but I also would observe that inexperienced people could lose the track and get lost in these conditions.


The final summit of the trip is not far from Lake Cobbler. After about a 2km drive to a saddle, it was time to whip out the backpack again for one last climb. This was a sharp (but with some breaks) 150m climb up to the summit. This summit is directly accessible with a 4WD, but not a Prius. By this stage, I was looking for a quick activation, but in the end, I operated for about one hour on top. Peter VK3PF worked me on every summit on this trip. Also Glenn VK3YY, disappearing from work out to the car when he saw spotted on sotawatch.

A most enjoyable trip, even if a bit of hard work. I am 52 SOTA activation points heavier, and hopefully a few pounds lighter.

Regards, 73 Wayne VK3WAM

Eagle Peaks and The Govenor VK3/VE-045 & VE-046

Hi all,

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.

Here is a map of the area, and my route taken in red:
Map of route taken to access Eagle Peaks and The Govenor

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.

Getting out

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

Upgrading a camping lantern

Hi all,

My family goes car based camping a few times a year. I also go pack carry camping as well, but that requires a different set of gear. A number of years ago I purchased a 7W fluorescent camping lantern. It has worked well, but now the battery is cooked. Here’s a look at the box of the product.

Wild Country 7W camping lantern

Designed to fail

The cheaper – and not so cheap – lanterns can often have a poor design that can lead to early failure because they do not treat the internal battery appropriately. These units are often supplied with an internal sealed lead acid battery (SLA). My one had a 4Ah 6V battery. This can power the lamp for about 3 1/2 hours. One problem is that SLA batteries should not be cycled more than 50%. They also should be stored fully charged. The 50% cycle means that this lantern should have only been used for 1 3/4 hours on a full charge, and then it needs recharging. No mention of that in the small manual that came with the lantern.

The second problem is that the charging circuit built into the device does not charge the Pb battery in a way that is according to spec. The charging voltage is too high. It’s going to cook the battery a little bit on each charge.

So now I have a lantern that does not work. Should I just throw it away?


The rest of the lantern seemed ok, it just didn’t have a working battery. I could have just bought a new battery from the supplier, but they charge more than the cost of a new lantern. So, I thought I would replace the battery with something that was more suitable.

Firstly, I have been using LiPo packs in Amateur Radio applications – powering a low and a moderate power radio. A 3S – 3 cells in series pack has a voltage of 10 to 12.6V. Too high for this lantern directly, but it could be converted to 6V. I found some LiPos at Hobbyking that would do the trick.

Hobbyking 2200mAh 3S1P Turnigy

Three of these fit into the battery area of the lantern quite snugly. I cut the main cable to a short run and used JST-XH connectors, which are shown in the picture above, as these connectors are the same on my other LiPo’s – makes it easy to charge on the chargers that I already have.

Having three of these inside, with 6VDC regulation, gives me capacity over 3 times the old battery, but I can use nearly the whole cycle, so it is really 6 times the capacity.

I grabbed a DC converter off Ebay that outputs 6V up to 3A. The lamp draws about 1.2A, so that is easy going for this converter.

I would not be using the existing charging circuit. It was no good for the Pb battery, and it certainly would be no good for these LiPo packs. I could make use of the LED in the lantern that indicates when the lantern is charging. Instead, I would use this LED to indicate that the voltage in the LiPos was good. The 6V converter would work with an input voltage of 7V, which would mean the LiPo packs driven down to an average of 2.3V per cell – far too low. Instead, I would use this LED to indicate when the packs were getting flat, at around 11V or just a little under. The LED would be on when the battery was ok, and go off when not.

I needed a simple circuit to drive the LED. From the LiPo voltage source, I fed a 470ohm resistor and then three Zeners. I selected three, because the breakdown voltage of around 11V was what I needed, and I had these on hand. Three of these zener diodes, each with a breakdown voltage of 3.6V, in series gave me what I needed. The current on the zeners would be about 3mA – set by selecting the 470 ohm resistor. Connected between the Zeners and the resistor is the base of a 2n4401 transistor, with the LiPo voltage on it’s collector. From the emitter of the transistor, I had a 1K resistor. This would have typically about 9V across it, meaning a current of about 9mA. This was in series with the LED, which has it’s own 2V drop. So from the LiPo voltage, the transistor would have a drop of around 2V when the LiPo pack was fully charged, falling to zero when flat, plus just under 9V for the resistor and 2V for the LED.

This circuit was put onto some veriboard and put into the lantern’s battery compartment. It is shown below and the DC converter is immediately beside it. Below is the factory built charging circuit that is now unused.

Unfortunately, I mixed up one of the JST-XH connectors on one of the LiPo packs, with the plastic housing having wrong polarity. I made one of the associated connectors to match it, and marked them both with tape so I don’t use it for the other packs. I’ll just have to live with it.

After all of that, it was time to turn it on. Works well – very pleased with the outcome. Now, I can safely use the lantern for about 11 to 12 hours between charges, rather than under 2 hours. This has turned into an upgrade rather than a repair of the lantern.

Wayne Merry