Andrew VK3JBL floated the idea of a long weekend in the southern end of the Alpine National Park with Glenn VK3YY and I in January. It was a great opportunity to activate several summits that were new for me with good company and for me to give my new SOTA chariot (Ford Everest equipped for off-road) a workout, so I was in.
The plan was to drive up on Friday morning commencing with Mt Tamboritha then tackle Bryces plain. Day 2 was to be Mt Howitt and Mt Reynard with the 3rd day picking up Trapyard Hill and one of the rarely activate 8 pointers further east. The plan partly worked…
We departed on schedule on Friday morning from Glenn’s place and made good time to our first stop at Mt Tamboritha VK3/VT-011. We drove up Dingo Hill track to point 730543. This track is mostly suitable for 2WD, but beyond the junction at 733541 it is really 4WD only. The hike to the top followed McMillan’s walking track and was a steady, but not too steep climb for approx 2km.
The weather was warm and sunny and there were about 1 million bush flies!
Upon arrival at the summit, Glenn and I set up his KX2 and EFHW for HF while Andrew set up his 2m station about 50m away.
Propagation on 40m seemed to be OK and Glenn and I quickly qualified. We joined Andrew and made a number of 2m contacts back into Melbourne and Gippsland.
Mobile coverage was fine here (Telstra).
Re-tracing our steps had us back to the car and off to Bryces Plain (VK3/VT-004). Bryces Plain is a drive-up summit a short distance off the main Howitt Rd, which is subject to seasonal closure past Arbuckle Junction.
Bryces Plain has a Telstra facility at the top which didn’t seem to give us any problems. Again, we set up an HF and VHF station with conditions proving more challenging. We achieved only 3 contacts on 40m (VK2 and VK5) and qualified with a contact with John ZL1BYZ on 20m. On VHF I only worked Peter VK3PF, but that may also have been due to it being 6pm by this stage and other stations being otherwise occupied.
It was reasonably windy when we arrived at Bryces Plain and so after qualifying I pulled out my kite antenna to see if we could make some contacts on 160m. However as the sun was getting lower, the wind dropped off to the point where we couldn’t get the kite to stay airborne and so gave up on that plan.
From Bryces Plain we drove to Howitt Hut camp ground for the night. It’s a reasonable size bush camp site with a pit toilet and fire places. We enjoyed a well earned beer and an excellent mild evening.
On Saturday morning we were out of bed at 7:00 and after a quick breakfast, we struck camp and headed to Howitt car park for the start of the longest walk of the weekend – 14km return to Mt Howitt (VK3/VT-001).
The track from the car park climbs steadily before dipping down to Macalister Springs and the Vallejo Ganther Hut.
This hut is an impressive 2 storey construction and is accompanied by one of the most luxurious drop toilets I’ve ever seen!
There is water available at Macalister Springs.
From the hut, the track descends to a saddle and climbs to join the Australian Alps Walking Track that traverses Mt Howitt and the adjacent Cross Cut Saw to Mt Speculation.
We arrived at the summit of Mt Howitt on schedule with a brisk wind to challenge our antennas. Mt Howitt has a broad bare summit with lots of space for antennas. This time we set up my 6 band EFHW so that we could work 80m as well. Again we also set up Andrew’s 2m station to give further options.
We had only 3 contacts on 40m in VK5 and VK7, so clearly NVIS propagation was not working. 80m brought 3 more contacts in VK3 and a further 3 on 2m SSB including a summit-to-summit with Nick VK3ANL.
The generally poor propagation continued to be a feature throughout the weekend and we’ve come away with the view that you really need to have at least 80m, 40m, 20m and 2m available to ensure you qualify a summit at present.
The walk was approx 2 hours each way with a short break at Macalister Springs. It’s a spectacular walk once you near Mt Howitt with the rugged peaks of the Cross-cut Saw providing a dramatic visual backdrop.
After a brief (late) lunch stop back at the car, we headed for Mt Reynard (VK3/VT-002). This is where our plans started to fall apart! We arrived at the closest approach point to Mt Reynard on Kelly Lane around 4:00pm. Glenn had activated this summit previously and estimated it would take 1.5 to 2 hours to climb it due to the need to bush bash most of the way. Adding up the times, we calculated that we would be finishing the hike in the dark and we all agreed that bush bashing in the dark was not prudent.
We went to plan B – Trapyard Hill (VK3/VT-005) which is a shorter walk. However, this too proved a problem as there is quite dense re-growth all over this hill which made for very slow going. Again we realised that we would find ourselves picking through thick bush in the dark and so gave up.
We used the remaining time in the afternoon to reconnoiter possible summits for Sunday. We started up the track to Cromwell Knob (VK3/VT-012) to find that it was heavily overgrown and would have involved serious bush pin-striping to the car. So, while this would be accessible, it would need either a very old car or a longish hike from Moroka road. Next we headed for Lamb Hill (VK3/VT-025) to check out how close we could get in the car.
This proved interesting with the track being passable by 2WD for some distance, but then a large bog hole transformed it to 4WD only. After testing the depth carefully, we made it through the bog hole and up another particularly rutted and steep section that would be challenging after significant rain. We made it all the way to the track junction at 943468 which offered the best approach to the hill. Satisfied that we could tackle Lamb Hill on Sun morning, we headed back to MacFarlane Saddle campsite for the night.
Saturday night was still and clear and the temperature dropped rapidly. We awoke to ice on the tents and zero degrees, but a clear blue sky day. We left the tents to dry while we did our first activation for the day.
Re-tracing our path along Moroka Range Track, we left the car at the junction and headed up the hill through the bush. It was definitely bush bashing, but not too thick and we made good time. The top of the hill is heavily timbered with relatively few obvious clearings. We came across a rocky outcrop that had enough space for an antenna, but found it was already occupied – by a Tiger Snake!
The snake was happily warming itself in the morning sun and showed no interest in leaving. We considered our options and there being no other obvious clearings nearby decided to carefully share the space. We placed ourselves at the opposite end of the rocky outcrop and bent the end of the EFHW to as not to have to put the operating position in too risky a location.
We then all got on the air with frequent checks on our reptilian friend’s location. Thankfully it was quite content to sun itself and leave us alone!
Again, propagation was poor and we ended up qualifying with a combination of 2m SSB and 20m with 2 contacts in ZL. We simply had no room for the 80m antenna on this site (particularly with half the clearing off limits!)
Once off Lamb Hill, we headed back to the camp to pack up the tents and decided that if we chose drive-up summits, we could fit 2 more in and still be back in Melbourne by 6:30. We headed to Mt Selma (VK3/VT-013) and Mt Useful (VK3/VT-016) to complete the weekend.
As we drove south, clouds started building and we knew there was wet weather coming in from Melbourne. Returning to Licola, we headed up the Licola-Jamieson Road, turning down South Rd and then onto Mt Selma Rd. The final track to the summit of Mt Selma is a bit rough, but no trouble in a 4WD.
The clouds were thickening rapidly and we set up quickly in the large available space. This time we started on 40m, but with just 1 contact to Gerard VK2IO in Sydney. We switched to 80m and picked up another 6 chasers quickly qualifying the summit. There were a few spits of rain and a lot of ants here, so we packed up and headed to Mt Useful.
As we arrived at Mt Useful, the heavens opened. Mt Useful has a communications installation and fire watch tower and usefully has a carport-type shelter! We considered setting up the HF antenna, but the heavy rain persuaded us to try a very simple activation using 2m HTs only. Again Peter VK3PF came to our rescue and helped us qualify the summit with local Gippsland stations together with working each other inside and outside the activation zone.
It was finally time to head back to Melbourne. The drive saw us back at Glenn’s house on schedule at 6:30pm and a slightly cleaner car from the heavy rain we drove through on the way home!
There are no photos of the last two summits as we were moving as fast as possible to avoid the rain!
Overall a great weekend of SOTA, some spectacular scenery (particularly Mt Howitt), and a unique operating experience – CQ with Tiger Snake! Thanks to Glenn VK3YY and Andrew VK3JBL for the great company and local knowledge making the activations easier for me.