Bush Search and Rescue Victoria training 2014

Hi all,

The first weekend of May saw Bush Search and Rescue Victoria run an annual training exercise. I was involved as a participant on the first day, and as an organiser on the second.

BSAR themselves have an overview of the event on their website.

Saturday Search exercise

This exercise was a combined feature search/line search/stretcher carry exercise. We split into groups of two. As well as day walking gear we carried:

  • A police issued SPOT, which is used to track the location of the search group.
  • A BSAR issued GPS. BSAR use Garman etrex units. These are loaded with vector based maps. One drawback to these maps is the contour lines are SRTM based, so they are not as accurate or reliable as DEPI based maps.
  • A police SMR VHF radio.
  • Each member has a CB radio. I carried a radio for UHF CB with a 5/8th wave antenna for CB. I also had a amateur radio 2m/70cm handheld, but decided to leave it in the car due to the low probability of its use during the exercise. On real searches, I carry a handheld with at least 2m capability.

The 5/8th wave length antenna and 5 watt radio generally gives me very good performance in the field. It tends to outperform the police VHF radios, unless a repeater is setup. Often on real searches this happens, but on a training exercise, not so. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it is situation normal to have bad comms on search, why make it easier during practice? 🙂

Feature searching is often making our way down gullies and calling out. The assumption is that the lost person(s) is/are still conscious and can respond to a call. Practically, we would still need to get within 100m, sometimes 50m of a lost person for this search method to be effective. It does cover a lot of ground and many people have been located through a feature search.

After getting close to completing our allocated search patterns, we made our way to a designated spot where a line search was to be conducted with about 5 groups merging together. Here’s a photo of the group on a road approaching the line search area (courtesy BSAR):

Line searching group

Line searching group

The idea behind line searching is to thoroughly cover ground, searching for any evidence of the lost person, or whether they had been in the area (footprints, recently damaged foliage or something that they had dropped).

After the line search, the final segment of the activity was a stretcher carry. BSAR had been donated an old stretcher that was used in helicopter winching. Equipment supporting that use had been stripped from the stretcher, but it’s potential ongoing use was to relocate a person requiring rescuing on the ground. This can happen to evacuate a person over ground to a waiting ambulance, or to move them to a better location for helicopter extraction.

One of the BSAR members was placed onto the stretcher, made secure, and carried through the scrub about 400m to a road (photo courtesy BSAR):

Ground based stretcher evacuation

Ground based stretcher evacuation

Sound and light exercise

“Sound and light” is a night time technique that has been adapted from New Zealand. The approach that BSAR uses here tends to be a little more informal. The idea is to walk along a track, shining powerful torches in the trees for about 30 seconds or so. Then stop, turn the torch off, make a loud sound with whistles and listen for about 5 or so seconds in the dark. Then rinse and repeat. The light in the trees can be seen for some distance. The evening of the practice was drizzily and quite windy. The wind meant that the sound part of the exerise was not that effective, but I’ve seen this technique used elsewhere where the sound is an important component.

Tracking & Hypothermia

The following morning was a rotation exercise. First up was tracking. I remember seeing the movie “Rabbit Proof Fence” and how good the Aboriginals are at tracking. I’m not so good, however having some skills in this area helps with searching. There have been some searches where tracking people has been decisive on the search. It’s important to look for any clues, a break in the vegetation, any marks on trees. A great deal of bush in Victoria is not that open, and so there certainly can be evidence left when someone has been moving through it. One difficulty is to distinguish between a person moving through the bush and animals. It also helps to know where other search parties have been – we don’t need to find each other!

Another exercise was considering dealing with Hypothermia in the bush. Many people lost for a while have inadequate gear to keep themselves warm. Hypothermia happens whenever the rate of heat loss exceeds that which the body creates heat. The body creates less heat when its been a while since the last decent meal. If conditions are poor – cold and windy – it can be challenging to keep heat even if well prepared.

Two things can certainly help with heat retention. One is placing a person lying on the ground on foam. This provides a nice insulation layer between the person and the ground. Direct contact with the ground can suck away a lot of heat – even without snow. A second, additional approach is using a “Bothy Shelter” such as the one below: (photo courtesy BSAR)

Bothy shelter in use

Bothy shelter in use

It warms up a lot in these things. Having two or three people in there becomes quite toasty. If the weather is poor, one of these things could go a long way towards saving someone’s life.

GPS Rogaine

The final main exercise of the weekend was a GPS Rogaine. Rogaining is an orienteering style exercise where participants make their way to a series of controls in the field. In a rogaine, there are too many controls to get to within the allowable time, and the controls have varying point levels. Participants generally are trying to score as much as they can, so there is time pressure. The GPS rogaine does not have any physical punch or anything at the control, it is just a place. Participants are able to use a GPS to get there, but they need to be competent in its use – and to read a point off of a map and convert that into a grid reference. What is being trained here is to be able to identify where to go off a map, translate that into grid references and be able to physically go there. This is like a real search where a search pattern is given as a series of points, or a line, on a map. One needs to be able to go to the first point, or start of the line, and then traverse along the pattern until the desired end point.

I was organising this part, so I did not participate, except for testing the software. A GPS Rogaine could not be scored manually, there would be simply too many calculations!

Most teams were able to do well in getting their controls, but it was interesting the few slipups here and there.

That was it for another year of BSAR training. There has been only one significant callout in the last year, and hopefully it stays that way.

Regards, Wayne

ESF Volunteer Leaders Forum 2013

Hi all,

I attended the ESF Volunteer Leaders Forum 2013 as a delegate from Bush Search and Rescue Victoria. Part of the forum was information sessions at the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park, but we also headed out on a few field trips.

Dealing with Traumatic Events

Any kind of emergency volunteer work is going to invariably deal with adverse outcomes. In the case of BSAR, this would be where a search is unsuccessful. Traumatic events can also occur during search, with families of the lost dealing with the reality of the outcome being uncertain. Searchers themselves can be witness to this. When searches are unsuccessful, one cannot help but know what has happened, and few of us are completely able to disconnect from this.

Presentations from Life Saving Victoria alerted me to research from The Australian Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health, and this is leading to change in the way potentially traumatic events are managed within the volunteer services. When I get time, I would like to have a look at some of their material. They have a free DVD on their site available to the public.

Recovery of war dead at Fromelles

Next up was an inspiring presentation from Lambis Englezos about the personal trials he faced, and at times official contempt, in order to find the missing fallen from the Battle of Fromelles in World War 1. The wikipedia link goes into much greater detail about the battle, and Lambis’s difficulties, but his story shows the value of perseverance. A number of people in the audience have personal links to people involved at Fromelles – which shows that events that occurred in World War 1 cannot today be considered “ancient history” but remain very real today.

State Control Centre

After a few more speakers, including Craig Lapsley – Fire Services Commissioner, our group headed out to East Burwood to the backup State Control Centre, with the primary being closed on that day. Here’s a look at the main control room (some numbers have been cut out of the picture)

Backup State Control Centre at East Burwood

Backup State Control Centre at East Burwood

This facility is used during major fire and flood events, but BSAR activity would generally not be controlled from here.

Police Academy

Next up was a trip to the Police Academy in Glen Waverley. It is a large campus that has been used by Police since the early 70s. We were shown past the parade ground (which cannot be entered except during official events in official capacity – a long-standing military and Police tradition) to a mock town used for scenario training. There was a mock train station, presumably used for scenarios involving trains. We were introduced to some of the equipment used by the Special Operations Group. Apart from all the weaponry and discussion about the high level of fitness needed by members of the squad, we also had a look at this toy:

Police SOG counter terrorism vehicle

Police SOG counter terrorism vehicle

This vehicle is essentially immune from small arms fire, can bust down walls and has many other features of assistance to the squad. One of these is a normal FM radio so we could listen to Essendon playing GWS while we checked out the vehicle. The groups that headed up on the Sunday did not get to see this thing as it was out “on a job”. Perhaps it would not be a good thing to be anywhere near the location of this “job”. I would say that it is unlikely to see this thing on a BSAR search if for nothing else that it is easy for its 9 tonnes of weight to get bogged on the soft tracks normally encountered there.

One interesting little device they had in the box next to the vehicle is a little remote control drone less than 20cm long that can be used to crawl into a building and provide a video feed back to a controller who can be situated in the vehicle.

Also in the mock village is a number of houses used for Police to practice entries into premises. This door pictured below has clearly had a number of busts over time:

Scenario house at Police Academy Glen Waverley

Scenario house at Police Academy Glen Waverley

Now, on a different note, the academy has a large chapel. The facility was once a Catholic monastery, but a number of members of the force have provided skills and time to have the area reopened as a non-denominational chapel. The flag in the left of this picture is the Victoria Police flag.

Victoria Police Academy Chapel

Victoria Police Academy Chapel

MFB displays at Burnley

After the time at the academy, we headed back towards town to arrive at MFB’s large facility at Burnley. I never knew of the existence of Urban Search and Rescue before today, which shows the value of these events. USAR is a multi-agency service largely set up by MFB, but provides services to any agency that requires it. There was a large number of MFB toys on display:

USAR vehicle

USAR vehicle

After following the example of others, I decided to get my photo taken in the driver’s seat of an MFB truck:

MFB truck

MFB truck

USAR have a device that can detect faint motion behind concrete structures. The device shown below even detected vibrations in the concrete slab caused by people talking:

Motion detection device

Motion detection device

There were a number of camera devices that could be used to provide video of places inaccessable to the contoller. Many of these would be highly useful in exploring collapsed structures for the purposes of finding people inside:

Remote control wire camera

Remote control wire camera

This device had a camera at the end of a cable. The camera could move around based on a joystick available to the controller. The cost of this device is over $60,000.

Life Saving Victoria

The next day, it was off to Life Saving Victoria and we first looked at their main helicopter. They also lease a second helicopter during the summer months. This vehicle is used for static line retrievals of people from the water. Being a static line, people are not winched back into the vehicle, but carried back to shore. Typically this is over a distance of 500m or less.

Here’s the cockpit:

Cockpit of Westpac Rescue helicopter

Cockpit of Westpac Rescue helicopter

Some of the attachments for the static line:

Static Line attachments to the Westpac helicopter

Static Line attachments to the Westpac helicopter

Life Saving Victoria operate a comms control centre at their Port Melbourne facility. They use 32 FM channels, comprising of some their own frequencies and VHF marine. There are UHF repeaters which give service to patrolled beaches and then carried back over IP to the control centre. The centre can patch several channels together as desired. Traffic consists of “sign on, sign off” notification and management of emergency events, such as dispatch of resources such as helicopters. There is effort to remove the non-emergency traffic from the radio channels to the internet.

Life Saving Victoria comms control centre

Life Saving Victoria comms control centre

Air Ambulance Victoria

After Life Saving Victoria, it was time to head up to Essendon Airport for a look at Air Ambulance Victoria’s main base. They operate four fixed wing aircraft and five helicopters. The four fix-winged craft are all Beechcraft B200 King Airs. Here’s one in for service:

Beechcraft B200 being serviced

Beechcraft B200 being serviced

One attraction of this aircraft is the larger door configuration for loading a stretcher. Part of the access structure is stored in a cavity in the wing.

Cargo door of a Beechcraft 200 open ready for loading of a patient

Cargo door open ready for loading of a patient

Here’s a look inside the aircraft:

Looking foward in the Beechcraft

Looking foward in the Beechcraft

Five rotary wing aircraft are operated, and these are typically used for transports closer into Melbourne (eg Ballarat, Bendigo, etc) where it can be faster to use these craft. Most of these craft are operated from elsewhere, such as HEMS2 (HELIMED) from near Morwell. Often, delivery can be made straight to receiving hospitals, which is not possible with fixed wing aircraft. Here is HEMS5 only about 10 minutes before it was deployed for a job.

HEMS5 a few minutes before deployment

HEMS5 a few minutes before deployment

The aircraft are fitted with winches, seen below. One example of use of this capability was a rescue of a fallen walker near Eagle Peaks a number of years ago:

Winch on HEMS1

Winch on HEMS1

As Essendon Airport is controlled airspace, the helicopters have to take off using the taxiways and runways, like a fixed wing aircraft:

HEMS5 "taxing" at Essendon Airport

HEMS5 “taxing” at Essendon Airport

All in all, a very interesting two days. Not everything is directly relevant to searching,but informative none the less.

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

Licola BSAR callout and SOTA activations

Hi all,

I had been planning to do a number of SOTA activations on Saturday the 13th of October to take advantage of the closing SOTA seasonal bonus period. I had been aiming to try out a squid pole, but an SMS on my mobile on Thursday (11th) changed all that. A school group was needing assistance near Licola. They were further up in the mountains, on the Wellington Plains.

Bush Search and Rescue Victoria callout

Given that I planned to be in Gippsland for the Saturday, I arranged to get picked up by the BSAR bus near Morwell, rather than in Melbourne, saving a trip at the end back to Melbourne, and then to immediately drive back in the same direction. I thought that it would be likely that the rescue callout would be wrapped up by Friday evening, especially as the school group’s location was already known. This did rule out taking up the squid pole as I had not got it ready. Instead, I’ll use the end fed suspended in trees.

The BSAR bus arrived at the Gippsland pick up at midnight and we then proceeded to Licola to pick up some gear. After that, we headed up towards McFarlane Saddle, but I presume someone had by then reached the group and we returned to Licola by about 3am.

Check out our hotel room for the night:
Sleeping in the Licola CFA shed

Here is a pic of the BSAR group at Licola:
BSAR group at Licola

Further details about this callout can be obtained from the BSAR website.

In the mid morning, we were stood down and returned to Melbourne, or in my case, the car near Morwell.

Mt Hooghly VK3/VT-049

With an afternoon now free, I thought I might pick up a bonus SOTA activation, but leave my Baw Baw activations to Saturday as planned. I first gave Peter, VK3PF a quick call to find out the situation concerning VK3/VT-049 and then headed up. I operated from near the trig point.

VK3/VT-049 trig point

I strung up the end fed in some trees. The feed point was near the ground. I noticed that if I lifted this up about a metre from the ground, SWR was very low, but at the ground it was about 2. I worked Peter VK3PF on VK3/VN-003 and a few other stations. I then packed up and looked to activate something else further south.

South Gippsland attempts

I made my way down to the Grand Ridge Road with a view to look at Mt Fatigue VK3/VT-057. The northern access road near to this summit was closed, so I looked to come from the west. This may be possible, but needs a high clearance vehicle. I was not in the mood for a longer walk, so I thought I would try for Lay Hill VK3/VT-077 instead. There is a road that approaches the summit, but the highest point is still about 35m below the top. The actual summit is on private land, so this was not going to happen today.

So with that, it was time to have some dinner, catch up with Peter VK3PF for a chat and head out to Mt St Gwinear for the two planned activations on the Saturday. There was no one in the Gwinear car park overnight. The temperature was about 2C overnight with some patchy snow around the car park, which is just under 1300m elevation.

Mt St Phillack VK3/VT-006

This summit is the highest point on the Baw Baw plateau. There are many summits on the plateau, but only one other point has enough prominence to qualify as a SOTA summit, and I was heading there later. To first access VT-006, I headed up the jeep track, and then used the Gwinear bypass track. Snow was around 10cm cover and dry at this stage, rising to about 20cm at the rock shelter. I then headed up Phillack, where there was about 50cm coverage near the top. I operated about 30m away from the summit high point to the south west. Here is a pic taken about 200m further down from the operating location:

On Mt St Phillack VK3/VT-006

I set up the end fed antenna, but my SWR was around 2 to 2.3. Not a great match, and the snow on the ground and in the trees perhaps is a significant contributing factor. Also it sounded really deaf, any QRN was quite low down. Not a great sign. I worked Peter VK3PF, but my signal to him was quite weak. This would have been a ground wave contact – there was LOS to his QTH. No other takers on 40m even though there was lots of calling. I made a nominal effort on 20m, but could see that this was not going to give much joy. I then went for 2m, and Peter helped call around on a few repeaters to drum up some contacts for me. I only had a 1/4 wave whip on a HT for 2m, but it was enough. Time to trudge back to the car, rather than continue with the original plan of accessing Talbot Hill VK3/VT-010 via the Australian Alpine Walking Track from the rock shelter. Too much snow for that.

I noticed on the way that the snow was much more wet lower down now, and there was hardly anything left back down at the car park. The weather had been quite poor, but there were some signs that it might improve, so I thought I would give Talbot Hill a go from the Mt Erica carpark instead.

Talbot Hill

After arriving at the Erica car park, I headed up, past Mushroom rocks, where the first hints of snow were seen. Ummm, not such a good sign as these are around 1200m altitude, and I still have to climb up another 300m to Mt Erica and then Talbot Hill. As it turned out, there was more snow coverage to lower heights here than around Gwinear. Still, it was the right decision to approach Talbot Hill from this direction, given its much closer proximity to the Erica carpark than St Gwinear’s carpark. Also I was familiar with the track from a BSAR search here last year. I did wonder why Mt Erica had to be a little lower than Talbot Hill, as the track crosses Mt Erica first. Have to trudge on.

The track was a little hard to follow. Another 20cm of snow, and it would not be possible to follow it, rather you would have to just proceed in its general direction and ensure your navigation skills were up to scratch. Here is a typical section of track (can you see where it is?)
AAWT near Mt Erica

I ended up operating from near the trig point on Talbot Hill. The AAWT does not actually go past the trig point, skipping it about 20 metres away. Still it is quite easy to find. Proceed up the track until it stops climbing, turn south west and you should see the trig point. I proceeded a little past the trig point to be on the right side of the hill for 2m operations.
Trig point at Talbot Hill VK3/VT-010

After a quick four contacts, again assisted by Peter VK3PF doing the repeater ring around (and he even did my logging for me from the comfort of his Churchill QTH), it was time to turn around and head back. At least with a HT only activaiton, it is real easy to get started and to pack up!

The weather had again turned nasty with continued snow falls on top and rain once below about 1400m. I did stop to take a quick photo of the Mushroom Rocks:
Mushroom Rocks near Mt Erica

I was glad to get back to the car and into dry clothes, but by then the rain had stopped! Tis the way it goes.

Wayne VK3WAM