With very little snow at the beginning of the 2015 season, there was no incentive to go skiing, but the lack of snow also meant great hiking conditions! I was staying at Mt Hotham for the 2nd week of the school holidays and decided with generally fine weather and a leave pass with both kids safely in ski school to attempt two summits I had not previously activated – The Twins and VK3/VE-023 – both 10 point summits.
In Summer, The Twins and VE-023 are fairly straight forward activations as you can drive a car up Twins Track to the saddle between the two peaks and make two relatively easy hikes up each summit. Winter is very different – even with no significant snow cover.
There are two reasons – Twins Track is closed about 1.3 km from the Great Alpine Rd and the low temperatures – you earn your 3 bonus points!
Parking the car in a clearing near the gate, I layered up with ski pants, parka, SOTA beanie and ski gloves and headed off down the road.
The road descends 75m vertical over about 800m to the NE corner of the base of The Twins. The options here are to continue to follow Twins Track to the saddle (about 4.5km) or head straight up the steep NE face. I went with the short, steep option 🙂
This side is seriously steep, rising 300m vertical in only 900m. I soon had the parka, beanie and gloves off hiking in just a skivy and still sweating! Here’s the stats to give you some idea of the steepness of this section:
Note the 33% grade, long rest time and very slow moving average!
The reward for this approach was the amazing display of iced up dead snow gums (due to recent fires) against an otherwise bare ground. The temperature was just below zero and quite misty causing ice to accumulate on the bare branches (any pilots amongst you would recognise this as the rime ice that accumulates on aeroplane wings when flying in cloud at just below freezing temperatures).
As soon as I got to the top, I had to quickly replace all the layers I’d discarded due to the cold wind on the bare mountain top. The summit plateau is above the tree line and had a thin layer of snow and ice which was quite manageable in hiking boots. The Australian Alps Walking Track passes right over The Twins as evidenced by this marker:
From the marker, the walk is easy over the plateau, first to the smaller peak of The Twins and then on to the trig point marking the main summit and my first destination for the day.
The trig point makes a convenient support for the squid pole and there are plenty of rocks to tie the ends of an antenna to, setting up the station was straight forward.
As you can see from the photos, the weather remained cold and cloudy – and just below zero.
In these conditions, the Bothy bag was an essential part of the activation – I would have had frozen hands by the time I’d completed the activation without it. Inside the Bothy bag, I was quite comfortable sitting on a foam pad without any gloves.
Being mid-week, the pileup on 40m was small with just six chasers, but enough to qualify the summit. I did not hang around to try other bands due to the low temperatures and the significant hike still ahead.
Packing up, I found in the half hour or so I had the squid pole up had been enough to see a significant build up of ice on the top of the pole and on the attachment of the antenna to the pole!
Heading down the SW ridge to the saddle was MUCH easier than the hike up!
You can see that it was only the top half of the summit that was enveloped in cloud and conditions further down were much more pleasant.
The saddle was a good place to rest and have some lunch. In summer it’s an obvious parking place and potential camping spot for hikers.
After a recharge, and following the advice from Wayne VK3WAM in his blog, I headed up Twins Track to then follow the west ridge line to the top of VK3/VE-023. This proved good advice with a comfortable walk.
Wayne had mentioned the existence of a water tank on the ridge line which was easily located. It appeared to be full, but the outlet tap was clearly frozen solid, so don’t rely on this water source in Winter (I had plenty of water with me)!
The peak of this summit is well forested with snow gums, but I found a good clearing at the peak in which to set up an antenna. This time, there were a few more chasers around and I logged 10 contacts including an S2S with Rod VK2TWR on VK2/SM-061 which was pleasing for a mid-week activation.
The return was via the same route down the west ridgeline and back to the saddle on Twins Track.
From the saddle, the options to get back to the car was to re-trace my track over The Twins, or take the longer route via Twins Track. This time the latter was much more attractive – a leisurely 4.5km stroll.
Overall, the activations took just over 6 hours with 12km of hiking and 650m vertical climb – I think I earned my 3 bonus points!
It is worth noting that you need to be very well prepared for an activation in Winter in locations such as this. In addition to the usual food, water, radio and first-aid gear, I had a GPS, printed maps and compass, a SPOT satellite beacon, mobile phone (which has reasonable coverage here on Telstra) and survival gear in the form of the Bothy bag, a SOL survival sleeping bag and an extra down jacket. Thankfully none of this was needed on this occasion. Once there is a decent snow cover, this activation would likely need both cross-country skis and snow shoes and probably deserve 6 bonus points!
This was a very satisfying day out netting another 26 points.
Here are more stats and charts that may prove useful to others planning this activation.