9 days in the Victorian High Country
Monday Apr 24, 2023
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 TambortithaSOTA VK3/VT-011 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 HowittSOTA VK3/VT-001 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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).
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.
Bryces PlainSOTA VK3/VT-004 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 HillSOTA VK3/VT-025 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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.
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.
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 RangeSOTA VK3/VT-003 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 SarahSOTA VK3/VE-032
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 HartSOTA VK3/VT-082
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.
VK3/VE-066SOTA VK3/VE-066 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 MurraySOTA VK3/VE-025 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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:
- VK1DA on VK3/VE-060
- ZL3DRN on ZL3/CB-746
- DM3FAM on DM/BW-008 (my first EU summit to summit!)
- OK1MCS on OK/JC-010
- G6PJZ on G/TW-002
- DG7ACF on DM/NS-160
- VK3BCM, VK2HRX, VK1MA, VK3/ZS5APT, VK3/ZS5AYC, VK3KR & VK3PXS on VK3/VE-021 , some on 40m, some on 2m
- HB9HNT on HB/TI-141
- VK6BAP & VK6NU on VK6/SW-071
- G0WPO on G/SP-013
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.
VK3/VG-009SOTA VK3/VG-009 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 PendergastSOTA VK3/VG-022
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 HillSOTA VK3/VG-012 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 NunniongSOTA VK3/VG-011 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 BindiSOTA VK3/VG-017
Managed to just work some of the others on 2m, but was another quick activate and go summit
Mt NugongSOTA VK3/VG-018
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 LochSOTA VK3/VE-005 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 RagSOTA VK3/VE-021 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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 FreezeoutSOTA VK3/VE-024 WWFF VKFF-0619 POTA VK-0514
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.
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
Smoko Streamside ReservePOTA 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 PorrepunkahSOTA 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 StanleySOTA 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 ReserveWWFF VKFF-2223 POTA VK-0215
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 GlenrowanSOTA VK3/VE-230 WWFF VKFF-0742 POTA VK-0214
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 WombatSOTA VK3/VU-002 WWFF VKFF-2403 POTA VK-2747
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.
- 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