Australia’s exceptional ski season in 2017 saw me return to Mt Hotham at the beginning of the school holidays so my daughter could participate in a jumps skills clinic. The snow depth was still 170cm which is amazing for this late in September. I took the opportunity to activate a few nearby summits, two of which were new for me.
The weather for the extended weekend was windy, so I shelved plans for The Twins and instead on Friday morning headed for Mt Phipps which is a forested summit that would be more sheltered.
Access to Mt Phipps is easiest via Cassilis Rd, Upper Livingstone Rd, Birregun Rd and then Mt Phipps track. The roads are all suitable for 2WD vehicles, but Mt Phipps track is not – it is not a hard 4WD track, but does require more than 2WD clearance. Birregun Rd is a typical forest road – narrow and rough in spots and would require care in a 2WD.
I made good time to Mt Phipps track, but came to an abrupt halt with a decent sized fallen tree right across the track. I didn’t have a chainsaw with me, only a bow saw which would have taken ages to get through this tree.
So I resorted to using the winch and drag chain to pull it sufficiently out of the way to allow me to get past. It took a couple of attempts as I first tried to swing the tree across the track to the side to make an easy path, however the end of the tree got hung on its stump and was wedged at the other end by a fallen log. On the second attempt a straight pull saw it swing more in line with the track which allowed me to drive round the end of it. I lost about half an hour on this which put me well behind schedule.
The summit of Mt Phipps is well marked with both a sign and a rock cairn. I parked on the side of the track and hung my EFHW from an overhanging tree branch. Switching on I spotted on 40m and soon worked several regulars from VK5, VK2 and VK7.
I then moved to 20m and had my first DX S2S with Wynne ZL2ATH on ZL1/WL-054 a distance of 2425 km on 10W. – definitely a highlight of this activation. I completed the activation on 80m but only had one taker – Peter VK3PF.
Peter suggested that as I was running behind schedule that I should head further south to Mt Birregun as another easy drive-up summit rather than my planned Mt Livingstone which involves a 2km hike. Given Mt Birregun was a new one for me and is a long way from anywhere, it sounded like a good plan.
I packed up and headed south on Birregun Rd. On my way I stopped in at Dog’s Grave campsite for lunch and a quick look around. It’s a great little bush campsite with a drop toilet and a very new hut (Sep 2015) with a pot-belly stove constructed by the Australian Deer Association.
The site is memorial to the working dogs that were fundamental to the viability of high country cattle grazing during the past century – here’s an interesting web article about the site: Dog’s Grave.
Birregun Rd improves markedly south of Dog’s Grave which allowed me to quickly cover the remaining 8.5 km to Mt Birregun. Birregun Rd passes close to the summit and there is a short side track up to the summit itself (2WD OK). The summit has a large clearing (a helipad) and a small comms installation.
The views from this summit are impressive and you get a real sense of isolation with nothing but forested mountains as far as the eye can see (see lead photo).
Getting on air around 1:40pm on 80m the first station in the log was Col VK3LED on VK3/VC-018 for a S2S. Then followed a few regular chasers on 80m, 40m and 20m. With six contacts in the log, I packed up and drove the 88 km back to Mt Hotham. It was very satisfying to get 2 new summits and a DX S2S in the bag.
The following day (Saturday) I again headed out with a plan to activate Mt Livingstone and VK3/VG-030, both of which I’d activated in previous years. On arriving at the Mt Livingstone gate, I found the local Omeo police with the manager of the Mt Hotham airport and a key to the gate! They were heading up the summit to inspect the Airservices VOR navigation aid at the top. After I explained what I was planning to do, they invited me to drive up behind them – a 2 km walk saved!
Setting up in my usual location, the wind was strong and become stronger during the activation. Due to the drive up to the top, I was well ahead of my plan and was on air just before roll-over. I chalked up 15 contacts across the 80/40/20m bands including a CW S2S with Warren VK3BYD on VK3/VE-241. We made that contact on 80m, but had quite poor signal reports both ways which was surprising. When I pulled down the antenna, I found out why: the 80m extension to my EFHW had come unplugged in the strong winds, so I was actually loading up a 40m antenna on 80m! Impressive that the KX3 managed to tune it, but I suspect most of my power was being dissipated in the matching network!
By the time I was packing up, the wind was very strong and so I decided to cancel my planned afternoon activation of VK3/VG-030. The latter has a narrow, one-way track through dense forest (see previous visit there) and I decided that the risk of becoming trapped by a fallen tree was significant and without a chainsaw on board, not a wise move given it would have left my daughter alone back at Mt Hotham.
So I called it a day, drove back down the Mt Livingstone Rd making sure to re-lock the gate left for me by the police, and headed back to Mt Hotham for an afternoon of skiing.
Addendum: Note that at present, the Mt Livingstone Rd has quite a few fallen trees across it. It’s possible to drive around them all in a 4WD, but it would be impassable for a 2WD without a chainsaw.