Alan VK3XE
Amateur radio adventures

9 days in the Victorian High Country

I’d been thinking about going and activating some of the 10 point SOTA summits in Eastern VK3, to the point of booking annual leave and starting to sketch out a plan of summits to visit, when Peter VK3PF & Brian VK3BCM announced the planning on another VK3 SOTA weekend at Mt Hotham, on the very weekend I had already planned to be away. One very minor change of plans (literally just switching from a clockwise trip via Bright, Hotham, and then Licola/Moroka Valley, to go up to the Moroka Valley area first).

I started the trip with a total of 149 activator points, and left home on Monday, March 27th, stopping in Traralgon for fresh supplies before heading up to Licola, and then on to Tambortitha Rd. At the end of the bitumen, there was a sign saying the road was 4WD only, and my car is 2WD but has some ground clearance and I so far haven’t had issues by just taking it easy.

Mt Tambortitha


I parked at Dingo Hill track to start the hike up to Mt Tambortitha, made one wrong turn (not realising a very rough track off of Dingo Hill track was the correct one), getting my hiking boots nice and wet (which they would stay very wet until Saturday). Used SOTAmāt for the first time to create a spot via the FT8 network, and Peter VK3PF quickly came back to me, and quickly got the activation done while there was a short break in the rain. My car was parked at some old livestock yards, and given it was close to sunset looked like a good place to park for the night. Setup my other radio and got on FT8 for a little while as with the cold wet weather, didn’t really feel like picking up a mic or a key.

        Mt Tambortitha summit

Mt Tambortitha summit

        Campsite in some horse stableyards at the start of the track to Mt Tambortitha

Campsite in some horse stableyards at the start of the track to Mt Tambortitha

Mt Howitt


Packed up from the previous camp, to drive the 40km to the start of the Mt Howitt track, which ended up taking about 90 mins as the road base uses a lot of decent size rocks, as well as plenty of corrugations and I was concerned going faster would damage my car. Set out for the walk around 11, which soon opened up to some nice open plains before working my way along to a nice hut and nearby toilet with a view (or would have been if I had more than about 100m of visibility).

        Plains about 1km from the start of the track

Plains about 1km from the start of the track

The next section was more closed in with a narrow track and a fair amount of vegetation of both sides which was still very wet with rain and made sure my shoes were once again very water logged. From here back to open plains for the final ascent to Mt Howitt, where there were no trees at all. I normally activate with an aborists’ throw bag, but there were no trees or anything to hang an antenna off, so for the very first time I pulled out my Elecraft AX1 20m loaded whip, and easily made 6 contacts before starting the trek back to the car, retracing the same route back. I stopped at about the 14km mark for a decent break, as I was rather tired, as this was the furtherest I’d walked in at least 25 years.

Got back to the car about 20 mins before sunset, which was a little close for comfort. Decided to drive a few km back down Howitt Rd to stay at Howitt Hut and try and dry my shoes off, but without any luck as it just wasn’t warm enough to work out very well. Later that night had a fairly heavy storm come pretty much straight over me based on the timing between the lighting strikes and the associated thunder, but my tent held dry at least.

        Howitt Hut

Howitt Hut

Bryces Plain


First stop for Wednesday was Bryces Plain which is only about 500m off of Howitt Rd. Threw up a long wire, and tried to use SOTAmāt to put out a spot on 40m, but no luck at all. I was calling on CQ on 7.090 and John VK5HAA tried to work me but I was just too far down in the noise. Very helpfully John suggested a frequency on 20m if I wanted to try and work him there instead, which I did much more sucessfully and John put up a spot and came back a little later and offered to spot me back on 40m if I wanted to go back, but once again the rain had set in, so I packed up and moved on.

I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to bush bash up to Mt Reynard with the decent amount of rain that was falling, and instead decided to make it more of a travel day and work my way future up Moroka Rd before deciding which summits I wanted to hit up. I was a little behind how I thought I would be going, mainly due to having to drive slowly along Howitt Rd.

Lamb Hill


Decided to tackle Lamb Hill after having a bit of a break from the rain. There is a 4WD track that can take you much closer in, but that wasn’t an option for me, so decided to park at the Moroka Hut carpark, and hike in from there.

        Thin & slippery looking bridge over Moroka river

Thin & slippery looking bridge over Moroka river

Moroka Hut itself looked very cosy on a wet day, in a nice shady spot, but the very small bridge in looked a little dicey and I was very careful with my footing while crossing it.

        Moroka Hut

Moroka Hut

Just after there was a creek crossing that was about 1m deep, but the “bridge” didn’t cross all the water, and had to carefully use some rocks to finish the crossing while being very careful not to fall in.

I found that the track that looks like it would take me on the final ascent to Lamb Hill didn’t actuall exist, and it was straigth bushbashing up towards the summit. It was another day where sunrise was rapidly approaching so only climbed as far as the activation zone, and looked around and decided not to battle with trying to throw an antenna up in the tree. Turned my phone off of airplane mode, and had some signal, and an alert from space weather about an event in progress, so was concerned I was going to struggle to activate. Put the spot up, and my first QSO was with S57S in Slovenia, who gave me a 33, but I was blown away it worked at all. Worked another 4 stations before needing to pack up and get back to the car before sunset.

After this amount of bush bashing I wasn’t too excited about Trapyard Hill which was looking to be more of the same, so camped at Macfarlane Saddle, on what felt like the coldest camp of the night, woke up in the middle of the night with my legs feeling incredibly cold.

Picture Point Range


Woke up Thursday, and was already camped at the start of the track to Picture Point Range, so left the tent up in the hope that it may even dry while I was hiking. Started following the Spion Kopje Walking Track that was on my maps, except it didn’t seem to actually exist. Luckily, I’d already downloaded the track that VK3IL had recorded, which worked out far better.

Something about this summit kept making me feel like I was going in the wrong direction, and multiple times there had to very pointedly use my hiking GPS to put myself back on the track I was following. Was some decent bushbashing for the last 15-20 mins getting up to the summit, but the summit itself was some open boulders, with a little protection from the wind.

Taken my shoes and socks off to let my feet dry out a little, setup the AX1 once again, and spent more more time on this summit, helped by the fact that it wasn’t currently raining. VK1DA was on VKC/VC-002 (Mt Donna Buang) for an easy summit to summit contact and I ended up making 13 contacts on phone & CW before starting to feel a bit too cold and starting the trek back to the car.

The plains along this hike amazed me with their subtle beauty, and even as I write this I know I’m going back sooner than later.

Got back to the car, packed up the tent and such, and even though it was still a few hours until sunset, decided to head back towards Licola, to decend from around 1500m elevation, to maybe 200m elevation to camp, warm up for the night, and as it turned out, take advantage in the morning of it not raining and got to pack away a dry tent.

Friday was a resupply day, and then travel up to Mt Hotham. As the crow flies, from Macfarlane Saddle, to Mt Hotham is only about 70km, but in a 2WD car, the shortest route is 300km, and I also needed to visit a supermarket, and fill the car up with petrol, so went to Sale, did all the required things and found a conveniently located bakery. From Sale headed up via Dargo where I’d never been, but I knew it was an area my Dad loved and was very happy to be able to pass through.

Friday night got to the accomadation at Mt Hotham for the VK3 SOTA weekend, put a lot of callsigns to faces, as well as enjoying a much overdue but very welcome hot shower. Plans where suggested for summits to visit, but I taken a bit of a backseat and let the much more experienced activators around me make suggestions, and I just enjoyed being a tourist instead of all the planning I usually need to do.

Saturday morning set out in Peter VK3PF’s 4WD, along with Gerrard VK2IO, and Bill VK1MCW.

Mt Sarah


First activation of the day was very cold, and turned to shenanigans fast as the amount of summit to summit contacts being made on 2m FM with other groups of people was a nice confusing 10-way pileup, but the contacts were made very fast, quickly moving on.

Mount Hart


Peter mentioned there was a summit nearby that had never been activated, and asked if we wanted to try. I’d never had a first activation, and was keen to try. Again quickly activated on 2m with a bunch of S2S contacts as well as overhearing someone having a QSO with someone in Lake Entrance about 130km on 2m with their handheld.

I setup on HF as well, made a few voice contacts, as well as trying some CW which went very badly, have never had to deal with other people talking and I fell apart pretty badly, and ended up giving up on CW for the rest of the trip.



Driving between summits Peter suggested we could add another activation with a short detour, but we would need to make it fast to keep to our schedule. Handhelds were produced, 4 QSOs were made each, and back in the car for the next one.

Mt Murray


We timed the activation of Mt Murray to take advantage of the VK/ZL/JA/EU SOTA summit to summit event. This is where I appreciated that I was using an Elecraft KX3, two others using a KX2 and one using a Icom 7300, and these receivers did a very good job of dealing with nearby tranceivers. We spread out along the summit, and while I could very clearly hear Bill’s CQ calls on 20m CW even though I was listening up around 14.300, it was only key clicks and didn’t cause any problems.

This was a fantastic session with 24 contacts in total, including:

Would have been happy to stay and work some more local and DX contacts, but it was time to make a move so we didn’t miss out on dinner at the pub in Mt Hotham, although the rapid temperature drop as the sun was setting was a helpful reminder to packup. I also think I lost a counterpoise here.



Sunday, I set out again with Peter, Gerrard & Bill again, this time heading for big loop east of Omeo, with some of the other groups doing the same loop but in the opposite direction so we’d get to activate and chase a bunch of summits. Extra challenge to start the day is that daylight savings had ended overnight, shifting UTC midnight from 11am local to 10am local. Amazingly we didn’t seem to have any mishaps with the change of time.

VG-009 was another quick stop, mainly on 2m, but did quickly pull out the KX3 and AX1 and manage to work ZL1SKL on ZL1/AK-027

Mt Pendergast


Next summit was Mt Pendergast which was also home to a bunch of transmitters, including one that kept very helpfully blatting all over 2m. Didn’t setup HF here either, but did quickly work VK3ZPF on VK3/VC-038 on Gerrard’s radio.

Brumby Hill


This summit we planned to be at a little longer, and was further away from the other groups, so we setup two HF stations where I worked most of the group that was currently on VK3/VG-011 , as well at working VK3ZPF who was still on VK3/VC-038 , but this time on 10m. Not sure what was happening, but was some very odd echoey propogation in effect, with some of the others wondering if it was going the long way around the planet, rather than the direct maybe 200km we were apart. Had some issues with having two antennas being too close together, so didn’t have so much luck with my radio this time.

Mt Nunniong


Arrived on summit just before one of the other groups left. After the troubles on the last summit, went to the edge of the activation zone and oriented my antenna at 90 degrees to Gerrard’s and put a spot up on 40m which worked out great and got to work some chasers. VK4MUD was activating a park, and just before I responded to his CQ call, Peter called from Gerrard’s radio, and my radio was upset by the amount of RF energy, turned of the pre-amp and still had Peter coming through 59+20dB (as you’d expect).

Mt Bindi


Managed to just work some of the others on 2m, but was another quick activate and go summit

Mt Nugong


Last stop of the day, we weren’t expecting to get the others on 2m, but we go lucky, and again cycled through enough contacts for an activation before heading back for dinner, and a good chat about the weekend.

Found out that Peter earnt his 6th Mountain Goat during the weekend too.

Mt Loch


Monday morning it was time to pack up the car and continue on with the trip. Wanted to work a few easy summits before heading to Smoko at the end of the day to activate a never before activated POTA park. First was Mt Loch which is just off the Great Alpine Road through Mt Hotham. Nice bit of undulations out to the summit, and along the way seen that VK3JBL was on VK3/VE-021 . Let him know I was still about 20 mins off of summit if he wanted to wait. I overestimated my speed and it was probaby about 30 minutes before I was on summit, but noticed a spot as I was setting up that he was waiting for me on 40m, so contacted him first before another good run on 40m, including hearing from Peter and Gerrard that they were in route to a summit, and I offered to wait for them for a bit. Worked VK3JR (with VK3AFW) on VK3/VC-031 who was activating his first summit, and had Bill VK1MCW work me from VK3/VE-126 on his way back to Canberra. Peter, Gerrard & Andrew VK1DA worked me on 2m, with VK3JBL who was now at VK3/VT-018 .

Packed up and when I was nearly back at my car VK1MA was activating VK3/VE-098 on 2m, so worked him, and checked the quality of the road, which he said was suitable for 2WD cars, just cautioned to take it easy as there was some steep drops from the side of the road.

Mt Blue Rag


Next summit was down the Dargo road a little, and up to Mt Blue Rag, which I learnt has the longest downhill 4WD track in Australia, and therefore quite popular with 4WD folks. I also learnt that the only thing down that track is a good fishing spot.

Managed to repeatedly get my throw line and antenna tangled in the long grass, but eventually got an antenna up and worked Peter, Gerrard and Andrew on VK3/VT-020 who I knew were close to packing up for their next summit.

I investigated also activating Blue Bag Range , but it was quite a hike, with some decent hills in the middle, so headed back to the car, and on the last steep downhill back to the Dargo road where I parked there was a 4WD that started the decent too, so stepped off of the track, as any mistakes on their behalf could have easily hurt me.

The one near Mt Freezeout


Headed north up the Dargo road back to the carpark near Mt Freezeout, and started by following Peter’s advice to summit Mt Freezeout first, and then turn east for VK3/VE-024 , but I did see if I could work my way around the side and save some elevation, but the vegetation was much thicker. Just got up to the summit, it’s fairly open up from the carpark, and east down to the saddle between Mt Freezeout and VK3/VE-024 . From the saddle there was waist height shrubs that made climbing up the hill a fair amount of effort, but eventually made it. Went to throw an antenna over the trees on the summit that were only a little over 2m tall, and managed to loose a flourescent pink throw bag, and learning that flourescent pink isn’t obvious enough either, after loosing a flouresent green one earlier in the year. Used a rock instead, worked some locals on 40m, before a quick EU pileup appeared, as was as Steve KG5CIK which would have got lost in the noise, but I heard him say “India” in his Texan accent and asked if he was calling.

        VE-024 Summit cairn

VE-024 Summit cairn

The good run ended when someone keyed up and started blabbering away in some Eastern European sounding language. QSYed up a little, but was a good reminder I still had a decent hike back to the car and sunset was rapidly approaching. Got back to the Mt Freezeout summit without too many issues, but taken the wrong direction back to the carpark and ended up in much thicker vegetation, so slowly picked my way back to my original GPS track which made life much easier, but sunset about 15mins before I was back to my car.

Decided in the end instead of heading for Smoko tonight, just to camp right here. Have also been trying for the 10 POTA N1CC challenge for having contacts on 10 bands in 10 parks, and knew I was close. I’ve never had as much luck working the WARC bands, so jumped on 12m FT8, moving up to 17m and dealing with another pileup before my stomach reminded me that dinner would be a good plan

        View west from the carpark

View west from the carpark

Smoko Streamside Reserve

POTA VK-5623

Peter mentioned that this was one of the many new POTA parks that had recently been added in Victoria, and had never been activated, and so on my way down from Mt Hotham, stopped in here, so a nice little park beside a river and a shared user path, that had plenty of people out riding their bikes on a sunny Tuesday morning.

Best I could work out the reserve boundaries were mostly on the opposte side of the path from the river. Found a handy fence to strap a squid pole too, and made 12 contacts before rollover, and another 18 afterwards.

Mt Porrepunkah

SOTA VK3/VE-098 POTA VK-5264

Enjoyed a really pleasant drive through Bright to Mt Porrepunkah, and while there wasn’t much in the way of trees, there was a very convient metal pole that had been driven in to the ground, which made a great place to strap my squidpole to. Had a nice collection of local contacts on 40m, and decided to give 30m as a try to even though I was using my EFHW cut for 40m, which worked better than expected, followed by a quick run on 20m, and then off to have a late lunch.

Mt Stanley

SOTA VK3/VE-126 POTA VK-5267

Last summit planned for the day was Mt Stanley, and while driving up the summit, had the car show a warning light, for something that looked in the manual like something to be checked before heading back to Melbourne.

On Mt Stanley was a very handy picnic table, with some stumps a good distance away to use support for the squid pole. Started on 20m where I once again had another good EU pileup, before working Gerrard VK2IO activating VK3/VE-021 , before going down to 40m and working some of the local fantastic chasers. Was browsing the SOTA spots and noticed DL3EC on DM/BM-324 who was coming through with a reasonable signal. Had to try a couple of times to break through, but worked him with a few repeats of details, after which he thanked me for the contact, and told me that my contact had made his day.

Decided to drive down to Wangaratta and stay in a caravan park mainly to have a shower and to be able to take my car in to be looked at first thing in the morning.

Wangaratta Common Nature Conservation Reserve


Noticed that not too far from the car dealership was a WWFF/POTA park that was also in the activation radius for Silos on the Air, and decided to activate while waiting for my car, but didn’t wait long before I was told it was a sensor issue and even if it occured again I was OK to drive home.

Quickly setup about 30mins before rollover and managed 12 contacts before moving on.

Mt Glenrowan


Mt Glenrowan is in the Warby Ovens National Park, which is on the list for the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award which is a VK3 award for contacts from or to all of the national parks in VK3, and it was still on my list, so decided to grab the summit, even though it was a 9km hike for the lowest point summit of the trip, but was still a nice walk, even though it was a much warmer day that I’d been used to. Worked VK3NDG activating VK3/VT-042 , but couldn’t catch VK3WAM before needing to keep moving, as I still had a 3 hour drive to get back to Melbourne.

Mt Wombat


My very last stop was Mt Wombat, not too long a detour off of the Hume Freeway, where I managed to rip the wire off of the wirewinder for my EFHW which also houses the transformer. Between the lost counterpoises, this was the last working antenna I had with me. Luckily I use a screw connection between the antenna wire and the transformer, so grabbed the bag of tools I packed just in case, stripped some wire, wrapped it around the screw and hoped it would hold tight.

Was presented with S5 noise on 20 & 40m thanks to the many transmitters at the same site, so after only having 3 contacts on 20m, moved to 30m (again just letting the KX3 ATU manage the EFHW being cut for 40m), made another 6 contacts fairly easily, before trying once move on 40 which was slow going. Mentioned to Bernie VK3WMD who was activating VK3/VC-038 that I wasn’t far off going, and he said he’d just wait on frequency before I decided to pack up. Let Bernie know I was done, and straight away Peter called Bernie, who I’d wanted to work one last time, so jumped in quick to make the contact, when Gerrard also appeared, so did it once more, before apologising and packing up for the last time for the trip.

Was a slow trip home, as by this stage I was fairly tired, so stopped a couple of times for breaks, including just sitting in the car reading for 45 mins just to make sure I got home safely.

At the end I now have 335 points, so 186 points collected on this trip, more than doubling my total. Those 10 pointers really do help.

Lessons learnt

  • I don’t eat enough when hiking, especially when trying multiple summits in one day I get too focussed on the activating. Have found some more food ideas that work for when I’m on the go, as well as rembering to put them in pockets so I don’t have to take my pack off.
  • Still haven’t found great answers for keeping my radio & logs dry when raining. Have had it suggested that a Bothy Bag is worth looking at
  • Too many errors have been found with my paper logging system, either at the time of the QSO or typos enterring them later
  • I taken 2x 8Ah batteries for use in the car at camp, and 2x 5Ah batteries I built which fit in the bag with my radio. This was plenty of battery power
  • Fitting in cold weather gear in my pack is really pushing the limit of what my day pack can hold.
  • Gerrard suggested using a ground sheet as a good way to double check nothing has been left behind
  • Forgot backup batteries for my headlamp which meant I had to be very careful with how much I used it while camping, wich was a bit of a problem. Have had suggestions to get a headlamp that charges via USB but also supports AAA batteries, which seems wise
  • Need a small USB charger that can be powered from 12v that I can leave in my pack in case of low phone, or even one of the mornings low GPS battery (I thought it was on charge and it wasn’t)
  • Didn’t take laptop or battery charger mains power cables. While camping and driving the car cigarette lighter worked to charge stuff, but was lucky at Mt Hotham that we had a radio power supply which could run my 12v USB-C charger, and my battery charger also can be ran off of 12v

New call — VK3XE

After watching the list of available 2 letter VK3 calls, and not applying fast enough, I finally got the licence from ACMA for VK3XE.

Had a voicemail left on my phone about this while I was away, and so had to call from the top of Mt Howitt while I had some phone coverage, by finding a spot that worked and using speaker phone.

LCD Font

While making some changes to this blog, I thought to myself that it’s be cool if I could have a header in a font like you see on a 1602 LCD. I tried searching but only found LCD style fonts, which wasn’t what I was after

I remember in about grade 3 in primary school wondering how you’d make a font (the school’s Apple IIe had some sort of WYSIWIG word processor)

The first challenge was what tools to even use. I had the idea of just using a string to capture the character’s pixels as it appears on the LCD. Dig around and found some JavaScript and python based libraries but they seemed to be focussed on font manipulation, not font creation.

I came across a tool called Font Forge which has a horrible looking UI but a website that was designed by people who care about typography, and I seen one option was to import a SVG to define a character

I wrote some JavaScript to generate a series of SVG paths to replicate the pixels that is defined in a file with a string, using a small react app to write the SCG to a web page to make it easier to iterate on, and then once happy imported this in to Font Forge.

I used the export command to create the actual font file, and then imported in into my system fonts where it definitely looked like a font!

Followed the same process for a few more characters but was already feeling pretty tedious, so looked in to Font Forge’s scripting language which allowed me to go through the whole process of opening the SFD file that Font Forge uses, choosing a character, importing the SVG and then exporting the font.

From here I just needed one more script to export the character to SVG, and then it generated the script that I ran in Font Forge to do the import.

I still had the issue of characters having no space between them, so I increased the width each character was set to in Font Forge (and added that to my generate script)

I’ve published the repository if you want to take a look

Another day in the Yarra Ranges

I keep ending up activating summits in the Yarra Ranges partly because there are so many decent summits close together, but as I spend more time around the area it’s really growing on me. This time being summer I wanted to make the most of the light (and warmth) and see if I can activate four summits in one day.

Federation Range


Managed to follow the wrong path out of Lake Mountain resort, but checking my GPS vs planned route quickly shown my error.

A nice walk with dew still heavy on the ground but good progress was being made

Sadly after about 2km I find that the last trial I need is closed. Spent some time looking at the topographic map in OsmAnd, but couldn’t see anyway to get high enough to activate

Buxton Peak


With the first activation failed I looked at and seen Buxton Peak was along the way to my next summit. Drove past but didn’t see an obvious access route and has had only one other activation

Mt Mitchell


From the map looks like the summit is pretty much on the road, I taken Jackson Break off of Black Range Rd but there was a tree across the track. Was already in the activation zone but walked on to try and get closer to the actual summit. Didn’t quite make it but found a nice green shady spot to setup. Started calling CQ on 40m phone. Made a couple of contacts but they dries up quick. Tried 20m for 10 mins with no takers at all, moved up to 10 after seeing Peter VK3PF spot there but couldn’t here him. Tried calling CQ with no luck again, moved back to 40 for a listen around and picked up a park activation to get me over the line

        It was shadier when I setup

It was shadier when I setup

Still one activation down, I south toward Mt Dom Dom, and came across a tree across Black Range Rd, which would have been a much bigger detour (and harder to plan as there were numerous roads about, but odds are they would be 4WD tracks that my car wouldn’t make it down). I stopped and taken a look and it wasn’t that thick so I just slowed down and drove over it.

Mt Dom Dom


I slighly misread VK3HN’s Mt Dom Dom blog post, parked at the Dom Dom Saddle picnic area and started walking, and then noticed the road was of pretty good quality (which he pointed out I could have driven). I taken the branch off of Mt Dom Dom Rd, and turned left and started climbing the hill following what may or may not have been a natural track. Got to about 150m below the summit, where the foilage got much thicker. Tried to keep climbing up, but at this point it was too steep for me to safely bush bash. Tried skirting my way around a little more but very thick foilage prevented me doing that too. Worked my way back to nearly Mt Dom Dom Rd, and decided to pull the pin before I started running out of light for my later summits!

Archer Lookout


From Mt Dom Dom, I was actually very close to Archer Lookout, but without a good 4WD I had to take the Black Spur back to Healesville, and then up via Mt St Leonard & Monda Rds. I knew the road to Archer Lookout taken me straight past Mt St Leonard, but given that Mt St Leonard was only a few km from the main road, I wanted to arrange my afternoon so I wouldn’t be driving too much on windy gravel roads that I didn’t know well at night. Past Mt St Leonard the road went from reasonable quality to something more rough so slowed down and pressed on. At this point I’d been thinking Archer Lookout would be a nice easy drive up summit, but about 1.5km from the summit there were some deep wheel ruts that wouldn’t have been wise to try and drive through in my car, so back on foot again up the hill.

I knew the boundary of Yarra Ranges National Park was just to the south of Archer Lookout, so instead of going to the summit itself, Monda Rd continues just to the south. My memory said that the sound of Monda Rd was the boundary, so setup on the side of the road to be sure.

By this stage it was about 4:30pm and I was only finally setting up for my second activation of the day! Luckily it was the time of day where 40m is a bit more busy with locals, so rustling up some contacts went pretty quickly, first off was ZL3MR who I’d tried to catch for a summit to summit contact back at Mt Mitchell, but couldn’t hear him.

        A local checking out what I’m up to

A local checking out what I’m up to

        There were some beautiful tall trees about, but most of them far beyond what I could use a throw bag up to get an antenna up in to

There were some beautiful tall trees about, but most of them far beyond what I could use a throw bag up to get an antenna up in to

Mt St Leonard


An exceptionally easy summit to find, parked at the gate and started climbing up the hill. By this stage my lack of fitness was really showing up, but slowly one step after another climbed up to the summit, and then back down the access track a little to get away from the collection of transmitters. Mucked around a little working out what tree to use to support the random wire antenna, and before I’d even got the KX3 out of it’s pouch I’d set on the ground I already had leeches crawling on it, so moved in to the middle of the access track to setup. Gave 40m a quick listen to find a TX spot, starting my search at 7.090 like I normally do on summit, and started working my way up the band for a free spot. Came across VK1TTY on 7.191 calling CQ DX, but a little activaiton QSO between friends is OK, right?

        View from Mt St Leonard

View from Mt St Leonard

Worked ZL3MR again on 7.197, along with a few locals, but still hadn’t reached the 10 QSOs to activation the Yarra Ranges NP (at this point all my contacts I’d already made at Archer Lookout and so didn’t count). I’d been talking myself out of CW all day, but as soon as I did the contacts came in nice and quick including VK4TJ on 40m, which normally would be marginal (usually they are a 30m or 20m contact).

Had a great chat with a passerby who gave me a bit of the curious “what is this guy doing?” look, and proceeded to explain why on earth I’d do this and talk about some of the other sumits in the area each one of us had enjoyed (I really enjoyed Mt Vinegar a few months earlier)

        Operating position in the middle of the track

Operating position in the middle of the track

Wandered slowly down the car, feet a bit sore from the blisters that had set developed in my new boots that weren’t quite as worn in as I thought they were. Changed in to a fresh pair of clothes just after sunset and then started the 90 min drive back across Melbourne to home.

Inverleigh Flora Reserve


Taking advantage of a Friday off of work, and having a few other odds and ends I needed to take care of, I picked a park not too far from home that I hadn’t been to before.

Best access for 2wd vehciles is from the south off of Common Rd, I continued further in to the park in a 2wd SUV, but besides some large potholes it was no problem (either way my reading of the map says being stopped on the side of the road is within the park)

I started out experimenting with a new ‘random’ wire on 10m, and tried 12,15 & 17m with no luck. The day was getting on a bit, so jumped on to 20m, and made my first EU phone contacts, but with some low signal reports. I accidentally used one of the SSTV calling frequencies, so noted that mistake to avoid next time.

Dropped in to CW, and wow this was a new level. I’d never heard 3-4 people all calling at the same time in CW and so I was stumped for a little while I tried to pick out some partial callsigns and wrangle the pile up in to something I can manage. Was very happy that my instant character recognition practice was paying off, 6 months ago I probably would have been scared off.

By this time the sun was getting down to the horizon, and jumped on to 40m phone to catch the regular hunters, and Friday afternoon after work gave me another large batch of contacts, but in the much more casual and friendly way VK operators normally are.

Didn’t realise how quickly the day had cooled off until I turned the radio off to pack up, so made the most of the heater to try and warm back up.

Still considering other antenna support options as the strapping a squid pole to a tree was more painful today with foilage that continually tangled the wires. Need to look in to something like a towbar mount because I usually have a car handy for park activations (and wouldn’t go astray in poor weather either)

        Poorly lit trees against a blue sky just after sunset
Last minute post packup photo

Yarra Ranges Winter Bonus

I’d been intending to make the most of the VK3 SOTA winter bonus, but life kept poppping up and interfering with my plans, but the stars aligned for me to head out up some hills and talk to some people. Early start as I woke up unintentionally at around 4am, tried to go back to sleep for a bit, and decided to make the most of it, to the point I was in the Yarra Valley around sunrise, and over an hour ahead of my original plan

Mt Donna Buang


I arrived at Mt Donna and was the first car in the carpark. A nice frosty morning to show me I have very little experience of SOTA in winter (one day I’ll have to learn to deal with snow while activating). Started out on 20m and got two ZL contacts fairly quickly, and a very weak VK3PF, but given how close we were (maybe 100km?), not such a surprise.

        Frost on the grassy area on the Mt Donna summit

        Frost on park bench with tranceiver, clipboard for logs and associated station accessories setup

Moved to 40m expecting I could get a second contact with VK3PF, but no luck there. Did manage to get a few more contacts, including Roly ZL1BQD, which felt full circle given he was my first outside VK phone contact, back on Mt Donna last year.

Really struggled with my gloves to operate my pencil for logging, and was very hard to operate the G90. Definitely a topic for further tinkering. Much easier than trying to use my phone for logging though, and when the sun started melting the frost in the trees above me on to my log, was happier using paper that survived just fine.

Mt Vinegar


Parked at the gate at the end of Mt Vinegar Rd where it meets Archeron Way, and started climbing. I’d misunderestimated how much work 500m of climbing would be. Turns out, it was a lot of work, but I pressed on. About 100m past the gate was a tangle of trees I had to climb through, with the added bonus that there was a good bit of water flowing underneath them, no idea how I kept my feet dry.

After that no large trees, but plenty of tree litter to make nice tripping hazzards for a good part of the hike up.

        Tree litter covering the track

Walking up at one stage reminded me of riding along the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail about 5 or 6 years ago, until I realised that was literally just around the other side of Mt Donna from where I was

This section reminded me of the O'Shannassy Aqueduct

Eventually made it to the activation zone, the summit according to Sota Goat was a little further east of the track, but definitely downhill from the track. Strapped the squid pole to the ‘NP’ marker other activator’s notes had mentioned.

I had phone coverage, but no data. Started calling CQ on 7.090 to hold frequency while I sent an SMS, but VK2IO grabbed me on my second CQ before I’d even had a chance to (the VK summits/parks community are a great bunch that I certainly appreciate). Peter VK3PF looked up the Yarra Ranges park boundary for me, and it turned out I was maybe 5m outside the boundary (you want to be on the west side of the track probably at the tree line)

Clocked up my 4 contacts in less than 10 mins from my first CQ, but always like to hang around a little longer if possible. Spoke to VK3DNS who had an alert up for VK2/VS-054, but they were still enroute. Quickly flipped over to 20m, two ZL stations, but propogation wasn’t the best.

Of course the hike back down to the car was still a good bit of effort, the weather kept changing so I’d add a layer to stay warm, but then the wind would die off and I’d get sweaty again

Mt Strickland


My original plan was to activate Mt Ritchie, but Mt Vinegar taken a lot longer than planned, and I was concerned I was too worn out to safely make the decent, so ducked up to Mt Strickland, a nice quick drive up along Felgins Rd from Archeron Way.

Use some logs that were lieing about to support the squid pole, and seen VK3DNS & VK3BQ were now on summit. Tried hard to work VK3DNS on 20m but my signal was far too weak for them to catch my callsign.

Jumped to 40m, quickly got 5 in the bag as the wind was already picking up and making things rather chilly, then as no 6 was calling, heard the end of someone calling “summit to summit”, got VK3DNS & VK3BQ. Had a quick scan around 40m to see if there were any parks being activated. There were some lighthouses, but the CQ responses were coming quick, and I wasn’t cutting through. One quick scan around 20m, got VK3XV working a lighthouse, before calling it a long day and making the trek home again as the sun was setting

Hepburn Regional Park and that unamed summit near Daylesford

Spare Friday off work, and had some kid pickup duties to attend to so couldn’t stray too far from home, but thought I’d make the most of it, have been home quite a lot lately

That unamed hill near Daylesford


I’d been putting off going to back to VK3/VC-032 as I thougth it was only worth one point, but is actually four. No rain, but so much water on the ground I could see it flowing down the side of the road where I setup for the day less than 2m below the summit.

Pleasently this time around I could self-spot, so didn’t take too long before the 40m regulars came along, plus a few more which I hadn’t worked before which was nice. Moved up to 20m, called, and called with no response at all. Peter VK3PF asked me to come back down to 40m to work him, which I did, and then ended up having a good chat about his advice from activating so many different summits & parks.

        Squidpole attached to roadsign for antenna support

I used a conviently placed signpost as a place to strap my squidpole to

Hepburn Regional Park


Looking around at nearby parks that I haven’t activated, I seen Hepburn Regional Park which has only ever had a handful of activators (and none with POTA). It is split all around Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, but I noticed Mt Franklin was part of the park, and given some extra height and that it had picnic facilities I thought I’d go take a look.

        Picnic area with large green trees in the foreground

The picnic area was under construction, but it was a very nice open area, with a large grassy area in the middle, and some very large trees that would be easy to use for future antenna shenanigans.

Managed to work VK4MUD park to park, and ZL4NVW activating a summit on 20 & 40m, but both bands were a real battle, also had KG… who I struggled to hear, and was pleasently surprised, as this is the longest phone QSO I’ve ever made.

First SOTA

As I started going down the path of becoming licenced, and I seen a great chat with Radio Runner ZL4RA on HamRadioDX talking about his adventures with SOTA in New Zealand, and thought it looked like a good bit of type 2 fun, and a great incentive to get outside instead of being stuck in front of the computer once again.

Between lockdowns and being busy since I got licenced I hadn’t actually been able to get out since I got my licence. I needed to plan a bit more carefully, as I only have a HT and so wanted to keep in site of Melbourne to make it easier to find some contacts.

I headed up to Pretty Sally (VK3/VC-034), which was easy to find on a foggy morning, but had no luck with the accessible part of the activation zone all facing away from Melbourne.

Next up I headed for Mt Cobaw (VK3/VC-015), but signage at Lancefield said that the access was closed due to the recent storms that did a lot of damage around Melbourne. Headed for Mt Macedon (VK3/VC-007), which sadly had a road closure on the back road for the same reason. As I worked my way south to try Mt Macedon from the opposite side, decided to duck in to Woodend to the bakery that has always treated me well. Found out while I was there that both accesses to Mt Macedon were closed.

Feeling concerned and a little disappointed at how my day went, I last went up to Mt Gisborne (VK3/VC-039), where my luck finally turned around.

I was using my home built 70cm yagi, and quickly got 3 contacts after spotting. I spoke to Bill VK3CWH who suggested we try 2m from his location in Footscray. Was concerned about the base antenna on my HT not being enough, but we had a quick go and he reported a higher 59+ signal report than when I was on 70cm.

This was my first ever SOTA (as well as my first on air contact since I as licenced), and Bill said he’d put the word out I needed some simplex contacts, which very quickly arrived. Had great coverage to Mt Waverly and Mt Martha, and was a 35 to Peter VK3YE in Chelsea, which I was very impressed with.

The access for Mt Gisborne is the second gate on the left on Woodlands Dr about 200m from Mt Gisborne Rd (just past the Telstra hut on the left), and an easy walk up to the summit. I lucked on to a great place for a first activation, and was happy to see it all worked out in the end.

I am getting organised to give this HF thing a spin too, which will make this a lot easier

Learning CW

My interest in Amateur Radio is very much from the perspective of tinkering, and my “how hard could it be?” interest in trying things.

Reading more about some of the things people do for things like SOTA (basically go climb some hills or mountains with your radio), which I’m looking forward to giving a go, and combined with the simplicity and affordability of simple HF radios that are CW (morse code) only, I’ve been working on learning.

I’ve been using which uses the Koch method to help you learn what each character sounds like but too fast for you to count (so you can recognise characters purely by ear), but with pauses between words so you don’t get overwhelmed.

I’ve been going OKish, but only learning from sound to character has been frustrating me, and I’ve been wanting to learn to use a morse key to start practicing from character to sound to try and give my brain some more ways to start understanding the mapping between sound and character.

So I could do this, I decided to build a morse key, so taken a look on Thingiverse to see what designs were about, and printed two

The first feels good using magnets to repel each other and return the paddle to its starting position, but the magnet action is fiddly and I suspect easy to have the magnets come out and end up stuck in the wrong place

The second (Compact Morse iambic paddle by IU1OPK - Thingiverse) is simpler, using a small button switch to trigger, but of course feels clickky, in a way which annoys me a little. It is also much smaller, and suited to portable operation.