Return to Patagonia plus more

The Patagonian expedition continues in 2019:

Patagonian Expedition contains further details.


A valley in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Photo: Shutterstock


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Dead Centre SOTA : A Trip to the High Country

This blog has been a bit quiet since returning from South America as stuff has happened; the largest part being the health of my father (Neil) who as well as suffering from Dementia, had a serious fall resulting in permanent brain damage.
That said, life goes on…
(By the way, our Patagonian Expedition continues January 2019!)

I was charged with organising the Trips for my four wheel drive club (TLCCV) 45th anniversary celebrations in May of this year and had determined Rawson to be a suitable venue.
Rawson is the old Thomson Dam construction village located between Erica and Walhalla and offers lots to do in the area plus a venue large enough to accomodate 100+ people. A few weeks prior to the event, I proposed a recce with a couple of fellow TLCCV members. Starting off from Rawson, we would proceed north, intending to cross the Thomson below the wall; taking the Narrows Rd turn off then looking for a link track to Low Saddle track. This would also provide information for a future activation of VK3/VT-062 . As it turned out, there was a big tree down just past Rum Rd and one of our party would not fit under it so we about faced.
We proceeded up the main road towards the dam wall then had a look at Beardmores track but did not like the look of the river crossing which seemed long and fast flowing.
Back to the main road, over the wall up to the Aberfeldy road then down to Merringtons Flat and finally Williamson’s spur up to Army Track.
All this was pretty easy going 4wd high range with mobile phone coverage on the spur. This route, so long as the Aberfeldy River is not too high, can provide an interesting alternative to reach VK3/VT-034. From here, Williamson’s spur continues as an easy AWD route across to McEvoy’s Track / Springs Rd. to the East. The northern end of Army track however is a serious low range 4WD track with steep sections to negotiate down to Donnelly’s Creek. This is where we came undone. Negotiating a rocky step section, the front diff went. We were able to limp down to Store point where I pulled out the front drive shaft and, on determining that we could drive it out, departed via Donnelly’s Creek Rd, McEvoys Track, Binns Rd to Walhalla and then home whilst Geoff & Michael continued the recce.

This is the second front diff we have blown up. The first in 2009 was repaired by a local 4WD workshop where I paid to have the diff repaired, replaced including solid spacers put in to both front and rear diffs.
Observation of what was left of the crown and pinion gears following the most recent occurrence, it could be seen that there was only about 60% mesh contact and definitely no solid spacer fitted: this corresponding to a fine metallic paste being visible when changing the diff oil.
Fortunately I have found another workshop in Keys Rd that is very competent  who could undertake the repair works. Call me if more information is required.

Anyway, with the car repaired, we got to Rawson two weeks later and completed the trip as planned. On the Sunday, Nan & I headed up to Aberfeldy where we stopped at Mt. Lookout  VK3/VT-030 

The summit is quite flat and consists of a cemetery and communications tower which holds a UHF CB repeater and, I believe, a 6 metre repeater. I set up the HF gear while Nan explored the head stones, working 40 metres CW until some other Club members rolled up. Stopped and chatted over morning tea and just prior to packing up, managed to snare an S2S with Warren VK3BYD in Queensland on 20 metres CW before heading back towards Melbourne.

Well, a week later things hit the fan with dad and it was not until July that I got out to activate Mt. St.Leonard VK3VC-006 (very RF noisy) followed by Mt. Toolebewong VK3/VC-033. The first is an easy 2km walk from the carpark and the look out tower offers a good view. There were plenty of frost patches in the sheltered areas so I set up in the clear near the top; a mistake as it is really noisy here. From this same location a few years back, I worked into VK4 on six metres FM on the VX7R.
Mt. Toolebewong is an easy 2wd drive up albeit the operating location can be a bit muddy and there is no view. It is pretty RF quiet and has good phone coverage.
Plenty of contacts from both summits, mostly on CW and also including 80 metres due to the poor propagation, lack of NVIS on 40 metres.
Getting close to CW goat!
These summits make an easy activation pair, just note that the afternoon traffic heading out of Healesville can be heavy. Avoid going home through town, instead detouring around the Healesville wildlife sanctuary to the Woori Yallock road.

September saw me complete another regular pairing that also gives winter bonus points.
Mt. Ritchie VK3/VC-003  is accessed off the Acheron way. The route during winter from Warburton can be slippery and a bit boggy upto and around Acheron Gap so I took the Landcruiser instead of the VW Caddy. Note that not too far to the north from the trailhead to Mt. Ritchie, the Acheron Way becomes bitumen albeit narrow as it follows the pretty Acheron River.
It is a straightforward 7.5 kilometre and mostly up hill trek to the summit which was under a fine cover of snow. My first contact, whilst still setting up the HF gear was S2S with Andrew VK3JBL on 2 metres to Mt. Buller, nearly 100 kilometres away. Last time here, I worked Andrew (also on 2 metres) from Picture Point north of Licola at just over 100 kilometres. Height makes the difference. Lots of CW contacts including S2S and finally achieved Goat on CW.

90 minutes or so after winding up the activation, I was back at the car and heading towards Mt. Donna Buang which is an easy drive up to complete the day. Worked Nic VK3ANL from a park near diggers rest on multiple modes on 80 metres including am.

October: Mt Dandenong VK3/VC-025 to push on with HF but also to try the new DMR handheld of which I will write up soon. I managed 2 x DMR 70 cm contacts with SOTA regulars VK3EQ and VK3IL. It would be a brave person at present to rely on qualifying a summit on this mode. A week later was Cruiserkhana at the TLCCV property at Yarck. Once again I headed up to Andrew Hill VK3/VN-020 which is sort of on the way. This is a short but sharp hike which I commenced feeling a bit light on before realising the squid pole was still in the car!
HF only activation, unable to raise anyone of DMR or FM.

The Governor Expedition

This was initiated by Allen VK3ARH who was interested in picking up Eagles Peaks VK3/VE-045 and The Governor VK3/VE-046 inside the winter bonus period.
Due to the prolonged snow season, this was put off until later in the year plus, providing an opportunity to look at VK3/VE-075.
This is all rough and remote country inside the Alpine National Park. Initially we were looking at a one direction trek to pick up the 3 summits and finish up with a pick up / car shuttle from Mitchells Track between the home stead site and Wrens Flat (subject to winter road closures).
With the difficulties in arranging the shuttle and with available time, a plan B was opted for where we would head over Eagles Peaks, set up a base camp at Lick Hole Gap before heading to The Governor, returning to camp then back to the car on the following day.
Quite reasonable mobile phone coverage from Mt. Buller and a good horizon for the Spot satellite tracker.

Timed for the weekend after Melbourne Cup Long Weekend (which would help ensure that the roads and tracks were clear), I headed up to Mansfield early on Friday morning. One task I wanted to (and sort of did) achieve was to investigate access to VK3/VE-196 which is on the Loyola Range just south of Mansfield. Access requires crossing private property to reach the public reserve. Land services mapping does indicate a right of way but looking at the terrain, it would be much easier utilising the SEC access road. Anyway, I have some names and contacts to work with.

I met up with Allen VK3ARH in the early afternoon in Mansfield where, after a quick trip to the supermarket, we headed to the 8 Mile Flat campsite on the Howqua river past Sheepyard Flat; but first up to 8 Mile and Refrigerator Gaps for a quick activation of Rocky Ridge VK3/VE-047  . Back at the camp site, I set up the swag, Allen his tent then cut some firewood and had drinks and dinner whilst waiting for David VK3IL to join us. A clear and quiet night, now for tomorrow!

Allen & David activating Eagles Peaks

Back up to 8 Mile Gap where we parked and were on track at 8:10 am, reaching the south summit 2 hours later. We all managed to qualify on CW plus each completed the summit with local FM contacts. With much work to do we headed south west into the unknown at 11:30 am.

The travelling was very exposed ridges, rocks and cliff faces. It took us about an hour to travel just over 500 metres before we reached a cliff face which required some investigation and whilst doing this, Allen’s pack slid off and over the cliff, requiring an awkward recovery followed by a rethink of our plans.

Heading towards the Governor (in background)

We could see where we needed to get to which was still a long way off. There was concern with the amount of water we had already consumed (I had 7 litres with me) and that we would have to negotiate the same route back which was tough going in the downwards direction.

Plan C was put into action. Back to 8 Mile Gap (3:45 pm). From here David would head over to VK3/VE-123 and home while Allen & I headed to Mt. Sunday VK3/VE-050, estimating a similar ETA of 90 minutes hence.
Low Saddle Road then Mt. Sunday Rd is a long and lonely trek. The travel is easy 4WD in the dry and provides some good views of where we had intended to be. There is access to at least 2 secluded campsites on the Jamieson River off Low Saddle Road.
Mt. Sunday Track leaves the Mt. Sunday Rd and is easy going in 4WD (noting an open rock face part way up requiring some grip and ground clearance) following the ridge across Mt. Sunday, Mt.McKinty to Rumpffs Saddle. This is becomes a serious hard core 4WD track. Only short in distance, it took us over a day when last traversed in 2010. I had thought we could set up and even camp at the helipad as we did last time but since the fires, the helipad has vanished and the trig point is surrounded by scrub and ants.

We set up HF amongst this and were surprised by a number of Road touring motor bikes coming back down the track from Mt. McKinty direction. We later learnt they were using google maps to get from Mansfield to Dargo and were taking the shortest route indicated but not at all suitable for their bikes.
Anyway, as both Allen and I were feeling pretty spent, we had a quick activation working CW on HF plus DMR with David now on VK3/VE-123 and Andrew VK3JBL (2 metres FM) from Federation Range VK3/VN-029. We forgot to complete the summit! Mt. Sunday Rd down to Wrens Flat can be (and was) slippery in places due to its clay base and being cut up with use. Good tyres and low range 4WD recommended and avoid if too wet. We made it down to the main camping area at Wrens flat and set up at a table and fire pit, not bothered to look for a more secluded location away from the Deer hunters and their noisy dogs.

Up and ready to go at a little after 8am. Allen & I headed out along Mitchells track towards a point once known as the Potato Patch (the high point of the track between Mitchell’s and Wrens. We drove most of the way before stopping (830am) at a really big rutted bog hole, caused by the breakage of an under road drain. Not wanting to risk a recovery if we slipped the wrong way, I parked the car here and we walked the final couple of kilometres in 30 minutes to where we needed to head out towards VK3/VE-075. In a little over an hour we covered just less than 1 kilometre. The terrain first steady up hill off the road then trying to follow the crest into a small saddle before the first of two steep climbs.

We nearly made the saddle. Navigation was difficult as the undergrowth was generally thick making it impossible at times to see where you were going. I dropped many GPS pins enroute to follow on the way back and even a cairn to indicate where we needed to leave the crest and head down to the road. We did mistakenly drop off the north side of the crest into ultra thick undergrowth. We needed to be 70 metres away but to get there it was back to the top and along the top before dropping back into the saddle propper where the ultra thick undergrowth was back at us again, reminder of North Hell’s Gate. Once again we re-evaluated our plans, the time already taken against how far we had got and water consumption. We turned around and abandoned the attempt. VK3/VE-075 lives on for now.
On our trek out we came across remnants of an old road. This was not of any use but did confirm old VMTC maps and books of yesteryear documenting a track or route to the Governors from the Potato Patch.

Plan C

Take Mt. Sunday Rd up to the Jamieson Licola Rd and then look for Ferguson’s track which heads up to the old Jamieson lookout site. This proved relatively straightforward and relatively easy low range 4WD. I was curious to look at the approach to VK3/VE-158 which I thought to be a “false summit” seeing that the Jamieson lookout site was in fact higher. Anyway, the approach route from a parking area in a saddle below the tower site looked much the same with overgrowth as what we had just left with VK3/VE-075 so we pushed on, taking Sappers Link track and then the Jamieson Lookout track pretty much due west towards VK3/VE-191. This is a full on 4WD track and interestingly enough, the real summit for VK3/VE-158 should be on a high point on the track some 2.3 km from the intersection with Sappers Link track although we did not know this at the time but with a later phone conversation with Peter VK3PF who was tracking us.
I recall one section to be climbed as being “bloody” steep. Fortunately the surface was dry and good so with the rear diff locked up and the tyres already lowered, it was right foot down in low range 1st gear to make the top.
All up it took us 1hr:10 minutes to drive from the Jamieson Licola Rd to VK3/VE-191 and a further 30 minutes to take the relatively easy drive down into Jamieson. Jamieson is an easy 30 minutes on the bitumen from Mansfield.

VK3/VE-191 is a drive up and there is plenty of room to activate off the side of the track. Once again, mostly a CW activation. It has been hard going to get phone contacts of late. From VE-191 in the opposite direction to Jamieson, the track drops down towards the Goulburn river near Kevington before following a ridge back up to Ferguson Saddle and the Jamieson Lookout site.

Finally back at Mansfield, said farewell to Allen and headed home.
A successful weekend. 3 new summits, 28 points and a lot of knowledge gained. Will make another attempt at the Governor from a different approach; not sure about VK3/VE-075?

Note: Planning the trip involved quite a bit of work involving Allen VK3ARH, David VK3Il, Glenn VK3YY, Warren VK3BYD – Thanks all!
Various bush walking online resources. Maps used VMTC (Watersheds of the King, Jamieson & Howqua Rivers), Garmin Oz Toppo, Book – Wonnangatta Moroka N.P by John Siseman and Rooftop series maps.
Thanks to Peter VK3PF and others who monitored our progress via APRS / Spot Messenger.

Lessons learnt.
1.Put the microphone in the correct pack if the intent is for CW and Phone. Fortunately this was an all Elecraft expedition.
2. Secure your pack when left unattended on sloping ground.
3. Ensure all eggs are truly hard boiled.

3. Do not venture into this terrain solo.

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New Year on the Baw Baw Plateau

After a little bit of turmoil in the lead up to Christmas, our plan to revisit our trek on the AAWT of last year was shelved.
Instead, Nan & I drove up to Mt. Baw Baw and headed out for a couple of nights on the AAWT.

The run up to Mt. Baw Baw is a relatively easy one; following the Princess Hwy to the old Robin Hood Turn off & heading north to Noojee via Neerim South etc. Out of Noojee and past the Moe road turnoff, the still bitumen road becomes narrow and twisty (very pretty but watch out for oncoming vehicles – in particular logging trucks. Pass through the small hamlet of Tanjil Bren then at the South Face Road junction, head up the steep road into the Mt. Baw Baw Village.
Parking in the mostly unoccupied Number 1 car park, we walked into the village and had lunch on the terrace of the Village Restaurant. Sandwiches and coffee a little on the expensive side and service (due to the restricted staff numbers) a bit slow. Glad we ordered early before the crowds. Nice view!
Loaded up the packs after lunch, noticing that my water bladder was leaking (unable to do much about it – damp trousers but fortunately they dried out!). Headed to the bottom of the Maltese Cross T Bar then, crossing a bridge, a steady climb up Mueller’s Track to the 5 Ways Junction (take note of the top end of Mueller’s track for reference on the return journey). Link to best map
At Five ways (30 minutes / 1 km) we joined the Village trail (keep left, ignoring the Summit Trail and later McMillans Trail) and past the Bloomfield Picnic area where we stopped for lunch on the return. Still on the Village Trail, where it changes direction and heads due south, is a walking track ( + 30 minutes / 1.4 km – with a sign about 10 metres or so out from the junction) that heads north east across the headwaters of the West Tanjil Creek (drinking water here) then steadily up hill and east joining the AAWT. (+50 minutes / 2 km – nice camping in the saddle below Mt. Saint Phillack)

Along this last section and then further to the Summit of Mt. Saint Phillack (+ 10 minutes / 500 metres), Nan was struggling with her pack weight so I did a ferry service for her.


AAWT Junction. St. Phillack Saddle

VK3/VT-006, Mt Saint Phillack – 1565m, 10 Points

I Set up alongside the walking track and just past the summit cairn. Not much other than some dead scrub to attach the squid pole to. As I was using the short light weight one, this was not an issue – the ends of the doublet well supported in the trees.

First thing that I noticed were the March Flies – plague proportions and hungry!
A short activation due to available time and difficulties in phone coverage for spotting. I relied on the RBN for band changes.

Time Call Band Mode Notes
04:03z VK7CW 7MHz CW Steve 579, 557
04:05z VK5IS 7MHz CW Ian 559, 559
04:10z VK2WP/P 7MHz CW Wal 559, 559
04:12z VK3AFW 7MHz CW Ron 579, 559
04:15z VK2IO/M 7MHz CW Gerard 559, 429
04:26z VK6NU 14MHz CW John 559, 559
04:27z VK4RF 14MHz CW Rick 579, 519
04:28z VK4HA 14MHz CW Rick 579, 519

Post activation, continuing south along the AAWT, we passed the congested campsite located at the Mt. Saint Gwinear track. Further on the AAWT in a saddle located between the second and third peaks was a very pretty yet deserted campsite (+ 700 metres from Mt. Saint Gwinear Tk).

Nice campsite 55 H 439053 5811677

We continued further, looking for a water source identified by David VK3IL. We found this 700 metres down from the aforementioned camp site in an area that was quite boggy. Continuing down the hill I found an adequate 1 tent campsite just 250 metres past the water source. Nan & I set up here for New Years Eve, a party of two & not a reveler within ear shot. Filled up the water bottles after dinner, early to bed.
Our camp is close enough to 8 kilometres walk from the Mt. Baw Baw Village.

New Years day, 01/01/2018.
UTC New years day starts at 11:00 am local time!
Nan & I headed south on the AAWT from our campsite towards Talbot Peak (+1 hr 45 minutes / 7.5 km. We passed a number of good prospective campsites along the way but none with obvious water available. Set up at the Talbot Peak Trig amongst a squadron of March Flies. The trig is just off the track and it helps to know where it is! Previous activation via Mushroom Rocks in 2013

VK3/VT-010, Talbot Peak – 1525m, 10 Points

Time Call Band Mode Notes
23:15z VK7CW 7MHz CW Steve 599, 599
23:17z VK2WP/P 7MHz CW Wal 559, 449
23:20z VK3BYD 7MHz CW Warren 599, 599
23:22z VK3PF/P 7MHz CW Peter599, 599
23:24z VK5CZ/P 7MHz CW Ian 539, 529
23:24z VK2IO/P 7MHz CW Gerard 559, 549
23:26z VK2YW/P 7MHz CW John 529, 519
23:29z VK3HN 7MHz CW Paul 559, 599 OFF FREQ
23:32z VK3ARR/P 7MHz SSB Andrew 5×9, 59
23:32z VK3ANL/P 7MHz SSB Nick 5×9, 59
23:32z VK3AFW/P 7MHz SSB Ron 5×9, 59
23:35z VK1AD/2 7MHz SSB Andrew 5×8, 58
23:35z VK3GRA/P 7MHz SSB Graeme 5×7, 59
23:42z VK5PAS/P 14MHz SSB Paul 5×5, 57
23:45z VK2HRX/3 14MHz SSB Compton 5×7, 57
23:48z ZL2AJ 14MHz SSB Warren 4×3, 43
23:51z VK7CW 14MHz CW Steve 599, 599
23:52z VK5IS 14MHz CW Ian 579, 559
23:54z VK6NU/P 14MHz CW John 529, 559
23:57z VK3BHR/P 7MHz SSB Phil 5×7, 57
23:58z VK3HN 7MHz SSB Paul 5×7, 57
Time Call Band Mode Notes
00:03z VK3ARH/P 7MHz CW Allen 599, 599
00:06z VK2WP/P 7MHz CW Wal 559, 559
00:10z VK3HN 7MHz CW Paul 599, 599
00:13z VK7CW 7MHz CW Steve 599, 599
00:14z VK3ARR/P 7MHz SSB Andrew 5×7, 57

It was getting hot and the March Flies were terrible so, not wanting to hang around, I packed up quickly and we headed off first to the Talbot Hut site and then to Mt. Erica where we had lunch. On return we refilled our water at the creek near Talbot Hut and made our way back to our campsite. Spent the afternoon swatting March Flies and finishing off a very small bottle of Tullamore Dew; searching for bits of shade & enjoying the comfort of our new S2S Air Chairs.


Creek crossing near Talbot Hut. Good water


Woke up to cloud and mist. Very drippy under the trees and fortunate our tent was in the clear. Packed up and returned to Mt. Saint Phillack for a very short activation. Due to the weather, phone coverage was much worse than earlier & I used a pre=programmed message on my Spot Messenger to get a spot out. In the end the phone via SMS, Spot and the RBN all found me. Qualified on 40 metres CW and 2 contacts on 40 metre phone.

23:24z VK3JDR 7MHz CW David 579, 449
23:29z VK2IO 7MHz CW Gerard 559, 339
23:31z VK1EM 7MHz CW 579, 599
23:34z VK4RF 7MHz CW Rick 519, 519
23:35z VK4HA 7MHz CW Rick 519, 519
23:36z VK2YW 7MHz CW John 579, 559
23:44z ZL1BYZ 14MHz CW John 559, 419
23:45z VK1MA 7MHz SSB Matt 5×7, 55
23:46z VK3PF/M 7MHz SSB Peter 5×5, 55

A lot less people on the track today. We made good time & had lunch with the last of our  tuna & wraps at the Bloomfield Picnic Area. Very foggy at the Baw Baw Village. Drove home via Rawson and the South Face Road. Going down, possibly a quicker option than via Noojee.
Next up, Mount Hotham 2018!

Post Script:

1. Leaking Camelbak water bladder. I am pretty sure this was due to the 3 litre bladder being very full and also being compressed by the gear inside the pack plus internal and external compression straps. Solved by not using the internal bladder sleeve but instead using the outre pocket on the rear of my Osprey pack.
2. Water source near our campsite. This was a slow flow running across the track. Very shallow and care needed not to disturb the algae growth. I used the Steripen  for treatment just in case. Tasted fine, no ill affects.


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Patagonia 2018

sehenswurdigkeiten-in-chile-10Patagonia Expedition 

The link to this page will be a work in progress.

The 2018 expedition has been and gone. Stand by our return in 2019

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Voyage Français en 2017

Heading to France today. New specific Blog Page link.

Nan and I will be spending our time in Provence whilst Cameron & the Cats manage the home front.

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Bogongs Beckon

Allen VK3ARH BLOG of this trip.

Maps used Garmin Topo Australia & New Zealand V5
Spatial Vision Bogong Alpine Area Outdoor Recreation Guide. bushwalking.
More detailed trip notes.Bogong Alpine Area Trek April 2017

Many thanks to Allen VK3ARH for instigating this trek and to Warren VK3BYD for local knowledge support. GPX file available on request.

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160 metres and amplitude modulation

The first of April was not only April Fools day but also the first planned 160 metre activity day which coincided with AM day.
First to explain:
160 metres is a medium wave amateur band located just above the standard AM broadcast band. It presents many challenges for the home station, yet alone  portable operation. Antenna size, efficiency and propagation work against the portable operator.
Antennas tend to be big. Significant height is required for horizontal wires.
Short vertical antennas are not efficient; worse still due to ground losses.
Propagation, other than local ground waves, requires night time operation.


Having previously trialed my 160m vertical on Mt. Hotham, I selected Mt. Mitchell on the Black Range near Buxton as my summit of choice based on:
Previous experience.
Drive up summit.
Good phone coverage.
Adequate space.
Not a busy area.
Not too far from home yet decreasing the distance to those north of me.

I have found the most direct access to be via the Maroondah Hwy to Narbethong and then take Plantation Rd then the Black Range Rd (both dirt) which takes you right into the activation zone. Turning off at Jackson’s Break track leads to a large clearing at the junction of what used to be Kelly’s road (now overgrown). This clearing was what I was aiming for, unfortunately it was already occupied with bee hives. Bugger! A look further along Jackson’s Break track came to naught for a suitable location so I crept past the bees down Kelly’s road, over a fallen tree and set up; the tent being on a raised section just above the road and the antennas just in front on the edge of the road. I did wander further down to determine if there would be much traffic, no problems with that & I would hear the chainsaws hours before anyone got to me.
The antennas used were the standard 20 metre extended double zepp doublet and the top loaded 160 metre vertical. With the later, I needed additional spread on the top hat / guy wires to obtain a perfect match on 1825 khz.

First contact was S2S with andrew VK1AD/P on VK2/ST-036 via 80 metres SSB. This was 75 minutes later than my alerted time. What followed proved interesting, especially as I made no 40 metre SSB contacts,
Main operating window was between 04:12 and 08:40 hrs utc.
19 x S2S contacts (includes duplicates) in a total of 35.
160 metres x 16, 80 metres x 10m 40 metres x 5, 30 metres x 3 & 20 metres x 1.
Best DX was on 30 metres later Saturday night and early Sunday morning working VK6RZ, ZL3CC & JF1IRW (Japan) on CW. I worked VK6NU on 20 metres, VK3GGG/P in the Grampians on 80 metres AM. Best 160 metres was to VK2IO/P 725 km away north of Sydney. Most novel was a cross band contact with VK1MA (CW / SSB/ dot counting)
A cold night and chilly morning. Worked the JA at 21:30 hrs whilst in my sleeping bag. Put out a number of calls on 160m, I know that they were heard but went unanswered.


With the sun now out (Daylight savings ended), I had last nights left over pasta for breakfast plus 2 hits of coffee then took time to get everything packed up dry and tidy. My thought was to activate Mt. Dom Dom on the way home and alerted the same on Sotawatch.

Other 160 metre activity day blogs.
Allen VK3ARH
David VK3IL
Paul VK3HN

Mt Dom Dom is off the Maroondah Hwy and is accessed by Dom Dom Rd at the Black Spur followed by a scrub bash through logging re-growth. There is heaps of room to park where Number 8 road intersects. Number 8 road provides access to Mt. Vinegar but access of late due to logging has been a problem. To my surprise, the gate was open so I ventured forward towards Mt. Vinegar, getting all the way to a second gate (locked) that is only 150 metres (10 vertical metres) outside of the activation zone. (Walked without gear to the summit to determine where the activation zone commenced)
Setting up with the doublet on the side of the road, my first contact was S2S with David VK3IL/P on Mt. King Billy VK3/VE-016. I had activated this one 8 times but my first chase today.
I activated for just over an hour using 40, 80 and 15 metres. Very pleased to work 3 more JA stations on 15m CW including an S2S with JF1NDT (JA/KN-021). I did spend some time trying to get JP3DGT and Andrew HL1ZIH (Korea) both operating from summits on 15 metres.
Better yet, all today’s contacts were QRP 5 watts due to low battery voltage!

FYI, Fire tower picture site. Many of our summits, including Mt. Dom Dom have or had fire towers, even if they were only trees.

Next on the agenda is trek with Allen VK3ARH on the 22nd of April in the Bogong Alpine Area. Stay tuned.

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Mount Hotham Expedition


The weekend of the 25th and 26th of February was fast approaching. I had intended to head up to Hotham on Friday morning with Nan but due to circumstances, headed up on Thursday afternoon in the Caddy instead.
Heading north up the Hume Freeway, the first port of call was Myrtleford where I finally caught up with Warren VK3BYD, we had quite a lengthy chat in the park and a show and tell with our various equipment.
It was then up to Mt. Porepunkah VK3/VE-098. This is an easy 2WD drive up to the fire tower site.  Access was from One Mile Creek road off the Great Alpine Road. Navigation is straightforward but for an unmarked intersection where one needs to veer left over a creek followed by a hard right rather than follow the track heading up the hill.
My arrival was timed to be after the 7:00 PM knock off time of the resident fire watcher so as to avoid any conflicts or interference.

VK3/VE-098, Mt Porepunkah – 1185m, 6 Points

Excellent Telstra mobile reception here.
With the light beginning to dim, I first set up my new 160 metre vertical followed by the heavier duty doublet and squid pole for use on 80 metres. I was on air and ready for Ron VK3AFW’s 80m CW practice session.


This is a great site and was very RF quiet on 80 & 160m

I easily qualified the summit on 80m CW with regulars VK3AFW, VK3BYD, VK2IO, VK7CW and also VK3MEG. As for 160 metres, I tuned to 1825 kHZ and had a 599 both ways contact with VK7CW and 559 to both VK3BYD and VK2IO.
With no further chasers on CW, I was pleased to hear VK2TB Tom located between Sydney and Dubbo and VK2PH Mark in Sydney, both of who I contacted with 55 reports. With the summit now qualified on 160 metres, it was a late dinner whilst monitoring 80m SSB. Last contact was Peter VK3PF on 3.600 mHz @11:04 hrs utc.
I packed up all the gear with the aid of my head lamp then set up my new S2S comfort plus mattress in the back of the caddy and then retired for the night.
Great day and night views from this summit.

Breakfast at 7:00 am in mild conditions before heading down to Porepunkah township then up to Mt. Buffalo.
If you ever wondered about the name Mt. Buffalo, view the range from the “Snow Road” not far out from the Hume Freeway.

I stopped past the parks office on the way up for a look. The parks staff thought I was a working sub-contractor. Little traffic on the road at this time, a few cars and also push bikes.
Knowing the Horn activation site to be very tight, I first headed there before it became too crowded.
Good Telstra mobile coverage from both summits.

VK3/VE-014, The Horn – 1723m, 10 Points

The horn consists of a sharp and pointy rock outcrop with a viewing platform at its top. The walking track access leads to a metal stair case. I measured that the start of these stairs is just inside the activation zone.


Good view of the Hump from here

Being the only person up there, I set up on the observation platform. The squid pole strapped to a corner post, one leg of the doublet hanging vertically down the granite rock cliff and the other leg strung out and tied to the hand rail lower down the steps. I made sure all my gear was stowed out of the way and tied to the rail where possible after loosing the squid pole cap over the edge.
My activation period was 48 minutes. I had a few visitors who, from my appearance, thought I was carrying out some research work.
I started in 15 metres and first contact after much trying in the log was W4HBK, Bill in Florida followed by a booming John ZL1BYZ.
VK3PF, VK2UH & VK3HRA were worked on 80m cw , VK2IO on 40m cw and VK5 WG and FANA plus VK3WRL/P (Ben on the Moroka River) on 40m SSB.

VK3/VE-019, The Hump – 1695m, 10 Points


An easy 1.5 km walk from The Hump / Cathedral car park which also sports a drop toilet. Started on 40m CW and had an instant reply from Phil VK2FGBR in Newcastle. It took another 30 minutes and two band changes to get the second and further qualifying contacts on 20m CW. 599 reports to VK4, 519 to VK6 (side of antenna) and finished up back on 40m SSB with an S2S with Paul VK3HN on Mt. Nelse.
Activation time 60 minutes for 8 contacts. Excellent Telstra mobile coverage. Lots of bicycle traffic on the way back down. Next shopping in Bright then to Hotham!

Whilst in Transit to Mt. Hotham, I received a phone call from Allen VK3ARH who was also en route but via Ulrich Point on the Mt Buffalo range. We compared ETAs and I decided to activate Mt. Loch to try and pick up the S2S points.

VK3/VE-005, Mt Loch – 1865m, 10 Points

Great phone access from this summit. Line of site to Mt. Hotham. The walk is an easy 3.5 or so kMs mostly along a 4WD track that runs past the summit. All is above the tree line and exposed but for possible cover from buildings associated with the ski tows.
WX was clear but closing in from the south. I set up on the north side of the summit cairn in clear conditions but was soon enveloped in fast moving damp cloud and fog. The space immediately behind the cairn created a sort of vacuum from the prevailing conditions.


WX can change quickly!

Good going with 30 activator points for the day!

Great night at the Lodge. Present over the weekend were Brian VK3MCD, Ron VK3AFW & Ruth, Alan VK3FABT, Allen VK3ARH, Paul VK3HN, Glenn VK3YY & Sarah, Ken VK3KIM and Peter VK3PF


VK3/VE-002, Mt Feathertop – 1922m, 10 Points


This is the one that I had come for. Rather than running around picking up a multitude of high value summits, I was keen to venture to the second highest peak in Victoria. Allen VK3ARH was to be my companion again and, after a hearty breakfast at the Lodge, we were on the Razorback Ridge by 8:00 AM. By the looks of the carpark, we would not be alone.
The weather was perfect. A slight breeze and a bit overcast with some fog / low cloud at times (cleared whilst at the summit). In our travels we met a U3A group from Bairnsdale plus numerous Football teams from both Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance (not a ball in sight). There were also a number of extremely fit trailrunners. With 14kG in the pack, this was definitely not for me!


Looking north on the Razorback

The trek is some 23 kilometres return along the mostly exposed Razorback. The first section provides an option of following the ridge top or skirting around the east side (which is what we did). The trek is undulating and generally down hill (100m over 5 km) then up ( 160m over 5km) to the Bungalow Spur track junction leading to Federation Hut with a final push (160m over just over 1 km) to the twin peaked summit.


Federation Hut

The north peak is 1 metre higher than the south peak and we set up a short distance north of this highest point in a relatively clear and quiet area.


Twin Peaks of Mt. Feathertop

Using my KX3 and Allen’s 40/20m trap dipole in inverted V format biased north / south, we both easily qualified the summit using CW, SSB and many S2S contacts on 2 metres FM with our fellow “Hotham Expeditioners”
We had made excellent pace on the way out and were ahead of schedule. Our activation continued in now warm sunshine for nearly an hour over lunch before packing up and heading back to the car.
Travel time was 3:15 out and 3:25 back, the return leg also being in much warmer conditions.


From whence we came

Chaser contacts on 2 metres FM were had with Ken VK3KIM on The Hump and Glenn VK3YY on Mt. Loch
Excellent Telstra mobile coverage. line of Site to Mt. Hotham.
Used nearly 3 litres of water on the trek. Carried clothing layers, extra food and a Bothy Bag incase of a WX change.


Showing practically the full route to Feathertop

VK3/VE-006, Mt Hotham – 1861m, 10 Points

Final summit for the day after a much needed shower and rest up at the Lodge. Allen and I headed up to the summit only to find the gate locked. This is normal and there is usually no private vehicle access unless otherwise arranged (as was our case). This meant another 1.5 km up to the tower for the keys then back again. Allen set up his 40/20m dipole and I the 160m vertical and we went to work whilst also partaking the odd drink and bite to eat.
Operating conditions were quite cold with a brisk southerly blowing.
160m was very noisy but I did manage to qualify with VK3BYD (Wangaratta) and VK2IO (Sydney) plus both Allen and Ron off the mountain.
As with Mt. Porepunkah, ground conditions were different to home requiring the use of the KX3 tuner to present a nicer antenna match.
Group photo then down to the very busy pub for dinner.
Excellent Telstra mobile coverage on Hotham.

Later start this morning whilst plans were made.
I accompanied Brian and Paul to revisit Mt. Tabletop over near Dinner Plain. This is a lovely 10km return walk across the JB Plain then into the snow gums down to Tabletop creek before ascending up past some rocky outcrops to the plateau of Mt. Tabletop.

VK3/VE-028, Mt TableTop – 1593m, 10 Points

Excellent Telstra mobile coverage.
Set up using the short squid pole ( to which I further broke the top section) and doublet. With 3 HF stations operating there was some mutual interference. Qualified on 40m CW and worked ZL1BYZ on 15 and 17 metres plus VK6NU on 20m CW. 80m provided better NVIS propagation than 40m but I was surprised to have a good albeit low signal contact with Rhett VK3WE on 15m CW.
Activation period 1 hr over lunch. Unsuccessful S2S attempt with JF1NDT/1 on 15m
The return trek to the car is a bit slower being more up hill and also a bit warmer. Decided to finish the day with a drive up between Dinner Plain and Omeo.

VK3/VG-030, VK3/VG-030 – 1321m, 8 Points

Good Telstra mobile coverage. Drive about 30 minutes towards Omeo from Dinner Plain. The turn off on the north side of the road is not marked and is just short of 1km from the Mt. Livingstone rd.
Turn hard right (north) at the track junction immediately once off the Great Alpine Road and proceed along a 4WD track (relatively easy but requiring ground clearance and good tyres if wet – becoming overgrown so expect some scratches). Proceed first north then north west on the track that follows the ridge for about 2.7km where a track joins in from the left (west). Take this track and proceed south west for 700m into the activation zone. Brian parked out of the zone as it was becoming a bit overgrown with limited opportunities to turn around. (Ref access VK3PF)

Set up on the track. With the still broken squid pole the summit was qualified with contacts on 40 and 80m CW. HF propagation was very poor but for Es (Sporadic E) on 10m with  Stuart VK8NSB operating VI8BOD (Bombing of Darwin special event call) putting in a cracking signal.
Activation time just under the hour (last contact 0523 hrs) then back to the lodge by 5:10 pm (06:10 hrs utc)

With a number of the group having departed for home, it was a quieter night at the lodge with many points discussed over a glass or two.

Depart for home in lovely clear conditions around 9:00 AM. Numerous photo stops. Home by 2:30 PM – beating both the evening peak plus school pick up.
Noticeably warmer at home!

My Stats:
8 summits, 74 activator points, 146 chaser points and 105 S2S points.
Walked 46 kilometres.
Best DX was W4HBK in Florida
Worked VK2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & good copy of VK8BOD on 10m plus ZL1 & ZL2.
Used CW, SSB and FM modes.
Could not complete an S2S with JF1NDT/1 (229)
I found 17m to ZL worked better than 15 or 20m @00:30 hrs.
Tried all bands 160 through to 2 metres with the exception of 12 metres.
Sota gods appeased with 1 x broken squid pole, 1 lost 2m hand held and a Subaru head gasket.
Further reading VK3CAT 2016VK3ARH, VK3HN




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A quiet weekend ?Jobs in the shack!

January 2017:
A major change in the shack has been a new Realistic DX 160 receiver that I inherited middle of 2016. This was timely as I had just removed the FRG8800 as it had no rx on AM or SSB.
The DX160 is practically mint condition with speaker and am quite pleased with the on air performance. Certainly beats hands down the Realistic DX300!
Well, the FRG8800 was relegated to the work shop. It was not long out from there due to the flashing display / PLL lock repair.
This was August 2016 and, although having looked at it a number of times and working through circuit diagrams, I was yet to determine the fault.
Yesterday I had some luck and it was so simple. I noticed a cable connector to the front control board was unplugged (how had I missed this? I probably caused it in the first place!) and plugging it in got things working. 🙂

Next problem was where to put it as the DX160 was now in the FRG8800 location. Nan did not want a receiver in the family room and for some reason the bedroom was out of the question!20170122_144142

Receivers: Realistic DX 300, Yaesu FRG7, Yaesu FRG8800 with FRT7700 & FRA7700, Realistic DX160, Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Realistic Pro 2006 & Pro 2010. Mostly old but still working. Bought the DX300 as I could not afford a FRG7 at the time.

Recently at home, due to the removal of a neighbour’s tree, I was forced to reinvent the general purpose HF wire antenna.
This antenna started off as an 80 metre dipole and then a doublet, supported by the tree on the nature strip and the tree overhanging our back yard.
Well, after 10 years, the council wanted the wire out of “their” tree due to a complaint – new next door neighbour / builder / developer who also took a dislike to the roof mounted antenna array.
Mk11 version had the same antenna become a loop, sort of a horizontal delta loop that happened to be resonant on 40 metres. It did tune on 80 metres but not as effective as the previous flat top. This was not a major problem as 80 metres was (and still does) suffer from major qrm most of the time so I tended not to use it.
I probably got 10 years out of this configuration.

Mk111, thanks again to new neighbours / builders / developers saw the tree replaced with a very attractive heritage green metal pole 5.5 metres high mounted in the very back corner of the property – a match to the opposite corner. This time, instead of a loop, I have run a stub down from what was once the centre position of the loop and am experimenting on performance on 160m, 80m as well as other bands (have a tri band yagi for 20, 15 & 10m plus 6 elements on 6m). This is a work in progress.

FYI, the open wire feedline is made up of split figure 8 flex and uses sheet flooring joining strips as spreaders. The separation is 100mm and length 27 metres.
Each original 17.5m leg has been extended by 5.5 metres (23m) that runs across the back of the property with the stub hanging down from the middle and horizontally along the fence rail (not easily accessible from either side). The vertical drop is about 4 metres and horizontal about 8 metres.
I will continue to experiment with the length and orientation of the stub.


Next project is to repair the feedline to the 2 metre yagi!
To do this, I will have to lower the mast. Not too bad, just remove the rotator which is mounted inside the roof and then use the brake winch to lower the mast inside an internal wall: thus lowering everything by 2.7 metres. Just have to get motivated and also pick some stable WX. March perhaps?


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Mount Clear and Beyond; The true story!

Plan for the Christmas and New Year Break is to tackle three summits along the AAWT. Two I have done previously being the Knobs and the High Cone and the third, Mt. Clear will be a new one for me.
These are fairly rare summits, the Knobs previously activated twice and the others only once. I had phone access on the Knobs, none at the High Cone and uncertain about Mt. Clear.
An alert is out for Wednesday 28th of December 00:01 hrs utc and the order of summits is as per the alert. May rely on the RBN Hole and APRS to assist spotting. WX is forecast to be hot and windy but 10 degrees cooler on the hill tops than in the Valley.
Limited time for each activation. An all Elecraft activation – reasonably band and mode agile.

The Knobs

The Knobs

Will be travelling with Nan, Allen VK3ARH and Glenn VKYY.
Camping out on the trail and putting our new gear purchased for the N.A expedition to good use.
Will have to update the Sota Gear page to reflect some more of the gear. I have updated the pack to the Osprey Atmos 65 litre variant medium frame. Nan has the Osprey Aura 65 litre small frame pack.
A map of our travels can be found on the link below.
Will have APRS working via the SPOT3 Tracker

mt-clear-and-beyond (Click on the link on the new page for the pdf map)

Update 29/12/2016

Nan and I left home early on Boxing Day morning (6:30 AM to be precise) and had a good and clear run. Breakfast at Yea in the wet lands reserve (no toilets) before continuing to Mansfield (ample toilets – tourist information, rail trail and main shopping strip!) and further through Merrijig to the start of the Howqua Track.
First observation of the track was it had been recently graded so I opted not to lower the tyre pressures. This proved to be a good call as the track and then Brocks Road beyond it were all in excellent shape and we could comfortably cruise at 60kmph in the Landcruiser (disclaimer – drive to the conditions and yours / cars ability!) There was very little traffic and we were able to nab our desired campsite on the north branch of the Jamieson River.
Set up the tent, had some lunch then off to get some fire wood on the Low Saddle Rd.

Now with the camp established and camp fire going, the WX decided to change with a colossal thunderstorm hitting us. I had not yet put up our tarpaulin shelter so we threw this over the tent awning and waited it out.
WX cleared in time for dinner and, with the tarpaulin now up, we had a dry spot for our table and chairs. We were going to get good use from this!

Cloudy day interspersed with occasional dry patches but mostly drizzle.
Heard from Allen VK3ARH on 2 metres from 8 Mile Gap. Severe WX forecast for the 29th and that it would just be him and us.
Met up with Allen at the camp site and determined to head off in the morning as planned so long as the WX was OK.

Up before 7:00 AM, hearty breakfast and coffee. In Allen’s Subie the intrepid three drove over to Knobs / Mt. Clear Rd; ending up parking in a small creek side campsite a kilometre or so prior to the start of Knobs track due to the deteriorated condition of this road. We were on the climb up Knobs track by 8:30 AM and climbed steadily for 2 hours before reaching the AAWT, a short break then up to the Knobs by 11:20 AM.


Steep climb up the Knobs 4WD track

VK3/VE-040 The Knobs 1495 metres.
Very strong gusty winds from the north west. Allen set up his EFHW with MTR and I, the KX3 – travel doublet and mini squid pole. The angle of the pole is testament to the wind and the antenna would not have been more than 2 metres off the ground!
I ended up waiting for Allen to finish activating to avoid interference. Got a handful of CW contacts including John ZL1BYZ and a couple of SSB contacts that included an S2S with Matt VK1MA on VK2/sw-027. Allen headed off to find Nan whilst I packed up. Last contact 01:20 hrs utc (12:20 PM local).
Good phone access from Mt. Buller.

It is a rocky descent off the Knobs, firstly on a spur then a lovely wide and grassy ridge until the approach to the High Cone where things get a bit more serious. The AAWT has two options at The High Cone, either over the top or around the north west side. We left Nan and the packs at the junction and headed to the summit some 120 metres up the hill.


Only 168 vertical metres to go!

The High Cone VK3/VE-240 1488 metres.
A short activation using Allen’s EFHW and the KX3. Winds still strong and we shelter on the south side below the summit. Beginning to rain.
A handful of contacts on 40m CW and a couple on 40m SSB for good measure then a quick get away.
Slow going with the chasers. Propagation is not great. Activation time 47 minutes. Still no phone access here.
Met back with Nan then headed towards Mt. Clear.


Snack time. Real Sota Activators do not stop for lunch!

Our rate of progress was slower than expected and the times provided to me from some trek notes were impossible to get anywhere close to. Nan, Allen and Myself called it a day in a small grassy saddle on the south side of Mt. Clear where we set up camp. The time was now 7:00 PM. We had our meal then fell into bed as the sun set.

Light rain overnight and early morning. Up and about by 7:00 AM and away at 8:20 AM in light rain that became more persistent as the day went on. Unable to see Mt. Clear due to rain and cloud. Evidently this is not an uncommon experience. Allen and I set up on the Eastern leeward side of the summit whilst Nan unbeknown waited for us at the top. Visibility and wind was such that we could neither see nor hear each other.
Back at the activation site, Allen had set up my doublet antenna and the KX3 was put into action. CW only as the microphone was safely tucked away in a dry bag. Thanks to earlier SMS communications with Warren VK3BYD, an alert had already been posted and a few chasers were patiently waiting for our activation to commence.

Mt. Clear 1695 metres.
We had the minimum 4 contacts each inside of 10 minutes then a quick pack up and away. We did not bother to work each other so we both await a future activator for the complete!
Back on the summit cairn at 10:16 AM, the start of the MVO 4WD track via a steep and rocky descent by 11:25 AM where I found some water.
This 4WD MVO – management vehicle only – track traverses beneath the steep craggy north west side of Mt. Clear before joining a spur that is often clear and grassy; boggy in places before steeply dropping down towards Clear Creek. There are a series of switchbacks; much of which were heavily covered with wet regrowth. The going here was wet and slow. Little forward progress is made due to the lay of the track.
Finally, where Mt. Clear track supposedly heads north west, it in fact runs south east towards the Clear Creek. At this point it joins Mt. Clear Rd and follows the namesake creek in an easterly direction before meeting up with the bottom of Knobs track. The marked continuation of Clear Creek Rd along side Clear Creek no longer exists. From memory, it was formed during logging works in the 1980’s and has since not been maintained. I believe this is also true for the section of Mt. Clear Track that used to join onto Mt. Clear Rd closer to where our car was parked.  I once traveled the MT. Clear track in its Entirety from King Billy by trail bike in 1983.
Finally back at the car at 3:30 PM.


AAWT Junction at 4km, The Knobs at 5.5km, High Cone Saddle at 9km, The Square Top at 13.5km, Mt Clear at 17.5km, MVO 4WD track at 19.5km.
Ran out of batteries not far off the end.
Trek Stats. 
Heights, time and distances are rounded and are guidelines only

  • Time on the go including breaks and activations but excluding overnight camp – dinner and breakfast: 18.5 hours.
  • Distance travelled including some deviations: 30 kilometres. Note here that neither Allen nor myself found the section of the MVO track that is allegedly a part of Clear Creek track that heads north east to the Clear Creek Rd. Instead, the MVO track follows the route of a path that runs in the complete opposite direction.
  • Carpark to AAWT – 4km, 483m ascent, 2 hours.
  • AAWT to the Knobs – 1.7km, 13m descent & 168m ascent, 50 minutes.
  • The Knobs activation time 68 minutes. (Too long!)
  • The Knobs to the High Cone -3.5km, 181m descent, 176m ascent, 2 hours between activations.
  • The High Cone to where we commenced the sidle around the Square Top – 2.75km, 45m descent, 160m ascent,  1hr & 40 minutes.
  • High Cone Activation time 47 minutes.
  • To where we hooked onto the AAWT (sidle track route becomes very scrubby and extreme side gradients) – 1.2km, 55m ascent, 1hr & 10 minutes. We joined the AAWT in a saddle north east of the first peak. In hindsight, probably better to take the pain and climb this first scrubby peak but we did save 20 metres of ascent and descent!
  • Point above to our camp beneath Mt. Clear 1km, 20m ascent, 164m ascent, 30 minutes.
  • Camp to Mt. Clear Activation site –  1.25km, 225m ascent, 55 minutes (+spent 30 minutes setting up & finding where Nan was)
  • Mt Clear Activation time 10 minutes.
  • Ascent to Mt Clear from Activation site – 0.5km, 10m ascent, 8 minutes.
  • Mt. Clear to 4WD MVO track – 2.1km, 266m descent, 55 minutes.
  • 4WD track to car- 10.5km approximate, about 60 metres of ascents (single longest is 40m) and 625m descent, 4 hrs.
This is a remote, rugged and often wild environment. Weather conditions can change without warning. Navigation can be difficult. Water can be scarce. Maps are not accurate and information is unreliable.  Travel prepared!


Rather than the more direct grey line back to the car, the MVO track continues south from the end of the red track line (where the batteries went flat) to cross clear creek and link to the main road close to where the Knobs track begins to climb up out of the valley.

Thanks to Nan and Allen for their company an support.

Reference VK3WAM, VK3ARH

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