Monthly Archives: January 2016

To Hell and Back

Sunday the 24th of January 2016 finally provided an opportunity to continue my desire to activate some more of the summits closer to Melbourne for both uniques and complete.
Today it would be South Hells Gate, North Hells Gate and Mount Gentle Annie. I had been to South Hells Gate and Gentle Annie back in my trail bike days and 4WDing in the 1980’s and 1990’s so it has been a long time between visits. North Hells Gate would be a new experience.
My plan was to activate them in the above listed order but sometimes the best made plans go awry.
Woke sunday morning to the sound of drizzle, not unexpected and much the same as yesterday where it cleared to be fine and sunny by the middle of the day. Headed out at 7:10 AM, 10 minutes later than my self nominated time. Hardly any traffic. Clear patches then more drizzle as I headed east on the Princess Highway towards Jindivick.
Took the C421 (Sands Rd) turn off just past the fuel station off the M1 and linked up to the Old Princess Hwy then Jacksons Track on which I continued until turning left at Stolls Rd. A note here is that further along Stolls Rd, it becomes private property so you need to take the Dug Out Track on the LHS at the road closed sign and gate. Good gravel road, continue until reaching South Hells Gate Track (reasonable 2WD but deteriorates rapidly on the descent to Quartz Creek Rd – slippery in the wet, which it was!)
My initial plan was to follow Allen VK3HRA (now VK3ARH) and park in a clearing on the South Hells Gate Track and take a redundant logging trail cross country to Robertson Creek Fire Line which crosses the summit. I had a look around, then headed down by car to the start of Robertson Creek Fire Line for a look down there. The track looked quite greasy so best not to drive up it, so, back up South Hells Gate and then a walk.20160124_111635[1]
This turned out to be a waste of time. There were numerous tracks fitting the description in the immediate area and I quickly got quite wet, so, back to the car and back down the hill then a walk up Robertson Creek Fire Line to the summit of South Hells Gate. The walk was really quite easy, a little steep towards the top where it also became rutted and very slippery. Can’t really advise 2WD access here and anything with less than mud tyres should avoid in the wet as the track is clay based.
Set up on the side of the track at the summit, opposite a big rock. I set my ground sheet up as a shelter for protection from the misty rain that was enough to be a nuisance and get the log book wet. 20160124_105241[1]

Summit Information for VK3/VT-059
South Hells Gate – 582m, 2 points
Association: Australia – Victoria Region: Victoria – West/South Gippsland
Latitude: 37 58 41 S, Longitude: 145 51 28 E
Phone coverage was good. Activation period 23:12 to 23:47 hrs utc – 35 minutes.

Set up by 23:07 hrs utc. The 40m band sounded quiet, as did everything else. A quick check of the antenna showed all was good. I put a spot out and at 23:12 worked Mark VK1EM followed by Peter VK3PF and Michael VK2CCW on 40 CW then nothing!
I re-spotted on 80 metres CW and promptly worked Ron VK3AFW and Allen VK3ARH. I had posted in my alert that I would use 80 metres in NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) propagation was poor – which it was!

Looking up Robertson Creek Fire Line

Looking up Robertson Creek Fire Line

Next followed a spurt on 6 metres with 4 reasonably local stations worked on SSB plus Peter VK3ZPF on 10 metres SSB.
Finally a quick burst on 40 metres SSB (& CW for Gerard VK2IO) before calling it quits following the last contact with Ian VK5IS at 23:41.
2 more summits to do plus I had a bit more packing up to do than normal due to the ground sheet.
Very slippery on the way down. Kept upright – just, the walking poles helped. Heavy clay build up in the tread of my walking boots.

I had intended to visit North Hells Gate next but abandoned this in the hope a little more time could be beneficial with improving the weather conditions. So, Mount Gentle Annie was to be next.
Following from the junction of Robertson’s Track and South Hells Gate to Quartz Creek Rd, i turned left into Quartz Creek road followed by right (North) into Forest road that leads direct to Gentle Annie Saddle.
I drove part way up Gentle Annie Track before reaching a section that was a bit steeper and greasy with red clay and ruts. Being on my own, not wanting to risk a solo vehicle recovery, I reversed back down and then walked all the way up. This was about a kilometre and whilst steep in some section, was comparatively easy albeit slippery in spots.

Part way up Gentle Annie Track

Part way up Gentle Annie Track

I set up close to the trig point, no shelter required this time although there was an intrigued group of trail bikers.

20160124_132440[1]

Summit Information for VK3/VT-078
Gentle Annie – 670m, 2 points
Association: Australia – Victoria Region: Victoria – West/South Gippsland
Latitude: 37 57 1 S, Longitude: 145 48 5 E
Good phone coverage. Activation period 0140 to 0210 hrs utc – 30 minutes.
Calibrated the GPS altimeter on arrival.
Change of tactics this time and self spotted on 6 metres SSB for contacts with Karl VK3LN in Riddles Creek and Peter VK3PF in Churchill.That done, I looked at 10 metres but the band seemed dead.
Next was 40 metres CW with 6 contacts and 40 metres SSB with 5 – including an S2S with Julie VK3FOWL/P on Mt. Warrenheip VK3/VC-019. Signalson 40 metres had improved slightly from earlier in the day but were still suppressed. CW was much easier than SSB for the better part.
First contact 01:40, last contact 02:10.
Back down the hill and a quick bite prior to North Hells Gate!

Summit Information for VK3/VT-050
North Hells Gate – 693m, 2 points
Association: Australia – Victoria Region: Victoria – West/South Gippsland
Latitude: 37 57 46 S, Longitude: 145 51 41 E
Phone coverage was OK. Patchy at time probably due to all the wet foliage surrounding my operating position.
Activation time 15 minutes. 04:35 to 04:50 hrs UTC.

There is considerable documentation on this summit from Peter VK3ZPF, Wayne VK3WAM, Glenn VK3YY and most recently Allen VK3ARH. It is all very relevant but seeing is believing!
From Gentle Annie Gap, it was easy to follow Proposch Rd first north then east south east. A little before reaching Peter VK3ZPF’s end of 2WD access way point, I veered off to the right to have a look at another road that my map said intersected a proposed fire track to North Hells gate. Reaching a saddle on this track, I could see where a trail along the ridge may once have been, whether it was logging or something else I will probably never know but I very quickly discounted this for a means of access. Too far and too overgrown.
Next to the designated carpark where Proposch Rd proper ends and a lesser road or track veers off to the right – continuing in much the same direction before a hard right hand bend then heading up in a southerly direction. The going was easy by foot and with a good stone surface, would be quite easy in a 4WD of even a 2WD with suitable ground clearance. Pre-walk preparation. Absolutely everything was locked up inside the pack. Nothing in the pockets. Zippers all closed and secure. Wallet and car keys secure in zipped up shirt pockets. Compass in pants side pocket, GPS in hand, secateurs in back pocket.
Wearing long sleeved shirt, long pants, hat, walking boots and long gaiters.

20160124_161441[1]
This stony trail reaches a plateau of sorts then abruptly dog legs left and right, eventually heading down hill to the north side of the North Hells Gate Summit. Google Earth suggests it is a dead end, possibly at a creek which then heads north into the Tarago river. I did not go down this far but did proceed to approximately opposite the summit to the south in case a direct approach was possible. I was not overly surprised that this did not eventuate. I had lost too much height and the gradient was steep. The undergrowth looked exceptionally thick. Back towards the saddle then left (south east) into the scrub.
Could not see the summit but, from the GPS and map, whilst still on the road, I took an estimated compass bearing and distance to the summit before heading in. The GPS worked fine while out in the open but others had reported issues when further in. I was about to experience this!

 

In no time at all I was in the thick of it. Visibility was poor due to the thick undergrowth with trees up to 50mm in diameter being so tightly packed that it was a squeeze to get through with the back pack. By this time, I was also back into cloud & mist.
My first intention was to try and locate Peter VK3ZPFs easier return route that I had saved as a track on my GPS as well as other possible alternative routes.
My GPS soon proved to be practically useless. Loosing satellite lock and pointing me one way for a minute and in the opposite direction the next. Was I going around in circles? Very possible as it was near impossible to see not only where I was going but also where I had come from. Add to this – vines that would form an impenetrable webb, grass that could cut, fallen and logged timber that was extremely slippery and mostly not being able to see the ground.
The going would become easier at times with the way cleared due to a fallen tree or the remnants of one. I felt that I was heading too far south and was loosing height. I was also completely saturated but for my boots (thanks to the new quagmire gaiters). I then, by the compass, pushed more to the east north east that soon appeared to have me gaining in altitude. Watching the GPS map for contour readings, it appeared that I was getting some satellite coverage.
Seeing that I was now above the 660 meter contour, I pushed on up until I had an elevation reading of 670 metres. That would do. In the zone (JUST) but no summit.
I set up the doublet in a very tight and narrow clearing amongst the scrub. The squid pole strapped to a tree, and the top in a very steep inverted V format and 1/2 the wire still on the winders lying on what constituted the ground. From leaving the gravel road, it has taken me nearly an hour to get into the zone.
Let the activation begin!

Reappraisal of priorities. First qualify the summit as quickly as possible.
Started on 40 metres SSB,  Bagged 4 contacts between 0435 and 0438 including a surprise S2S with Nic VK3ANL/P on Mt Buller VK3.VE-008.

Next to gain a multiplier for the 6/10 metre challenge.
Worked Ron VK3AFW on 6 metres CW, could hear Peter VK3PF calling on SSB but very low down. With the antenna set up, I was surprised I got 1 contact!

Next to qualify on CW.
Back to 40 metres and 4 contacts, this time a S2S with Gerard VK2IO/p on VK2/SY-002.

The objectives achieved, it was now time to get out. I had some concern both with the time that it had taken me to get to where I was plus the navigation. I endeavoured to try and stick to the crest of the ridge and head down towards the gravel road. Not wanting to miss the road completely, I then made a slight course alteration and headed a little further north, confirmed with an increase in the down hill gradient. It was with much relief that I stumbled out onto the gravel road come track a 100 metres or so further on from where I exited. This proved quite a bit quicker than the route in.
For the way out, I was able to get a GPS reading on the way point I had set where I departed the gravel road. From where I was, I was able to get both a GPS and compass bearing. The exit route seemed much more direct. I am certain now on the way in I was going in circles relying on the GPS compass bearing then not being able to get a fix for a magnetic compass bearing.

Will I return. Initially I thought no way. But now, I reckon yes, in the right conditions and maybe with company, I would like to complete the journey and reach the summit. Time will tell but one thing is for sure, I certainly gained a lot of experience with this one.

Neck and face post “vine attack”
Other “injuries” being leech bites.

Mere Flesh Wound!

Mere Flesh Wound!

Reference Allen VK3ARH

Reference North Hells Gate

North and South Hells Gate, AKA The Gates of Hell!

Hells Gate in Canada. Access is much easier!

Hells Gate in Canada. Access is much easier!

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Welcome 2016

That time of year again, when a Sota activator can gain points for the same summit when the activation transgresses the UTC new year rollover!
With milder wx than the 40 degrees on New Years Eve, I planned to finally complete a loop planned for November incorporating Mt. Torrongo Range, Mt Horsfall and McCarthy Spur via the full length of the 40 Mile Break track and Boundary Rd. (More on the travel details later)

Summit Information for VK3/VT-026

Mt Toorongo Range – 1257m, 8 points

Association: Australia – Victoria  Region: Victoria – West/South Gippsland
Latitude: 37 49 47 S, Longitude: 146 6 57 E

View from near the Toorongo Tower

View from near the Toorongo Tower

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Operating location Mt. Toorongo Range

Phone coverage is excellent., activation period 2.5 hours (31/12/2015 22:29 hrs to 01/01/2016 01:01 hrs utc)
I had activated this summit with Ron VK3AFW last year. This time I decided to first check out the fire tower lower down on the range prior to parking on the main track back up the range where a discrete 4wd track heads roughly south east towards the main ridge line. This track is shown on the Garmin Base Camp Oz Toppo map.
The main road here is on the 1200 metre contour so an elevation gain of at least 32 metres is required to access the activation zone. I took the 4WD track towards the ridge and then took a path of least resistance west towards the summit. I think that this route may have been somewhat easier as I did not have to revert to crawling on hands and knees like a wombat to burrow under the scrub but, even so, it was far from a simple and direct ascent due to the still required scrub bashing.

I set up above the 1240m contour line on the north east of the summit in a relatively clear area amongst the rocks that enabled me to set the antenna up where the higher HF frequency  radiation lobes would be biased north plus get some good performance to the east and west on 20 metres. No shade unfortunately and lots of March Flies!

Activating was a mix of self spotting and sticking on a frequency and chasing those already spotted. Thus prior to UTC I had 23 contacts as follows:
17 x S2S VK2, VK3, VK5, VK6,VK7 & JA.
10 x CW on 80, 40, 20 and 15 metres.
11 x SSB contacts on 40, and 20 metres.
2 x FM contacts on 2 metres via the VK7R best of which was to Andrew VK1MBE/P on the Horn 113 kilometres.
Best DX – VK6NU/P on Mt Randall 20 metres SSB 2775 kilometres and JS1UEH/1 on Tomiyasan 15 metres CW (519, 519) 8276 kilometres.

Post UTC I followed a similar procedure but did notice odd and deteriorating band conditions over the next hour.
17 x S2S contacts to VK1, VK2, VK3, VK5 and VK7.
5 x CW contacts on 40 and 20 metres Surprised to work Wayne VK3WAM/P on VK3/VS-021 on 20m CW (529, 429)
16 x SSB contacts on 40, 20, 10 and 6 metres
2 x FM contacts on 2 Metres.
Best DX VK6NU/P on 20 metres and a 5×9 report from JH7RTQ on 10 metres

Departing the activation area, I decided to head directly down  to the road and see what that was like! Working with gravity it was not too bad although I did have one fall.
I consider my approach path was overall easier.

 

Summit Information for VK3/VT-028

Mt Horsfall – 1131m, 6 points

Association: Australia – Victoria  Region: Victoria – West/South Gippsland
Latitude: 37 46 20 S, Longitude: 146 2 50 E

40 Mile Break Track

40 Mile Break Track

Phone coverage excellent.
Activation time 40 minutes.
Vehicle access to the summit

I was here with Ron VK3AFW in November 2014. That time Ron activated in the large clearing right at the summit and I went a little further along the track towards the west in order to get some station separation. I went back to this location again, this time for some shade.

First having a listen on 40 metres, I noted how quiet the band was – not good news with a solar storm now in full swing. I did hear some WX storm noise however.
First spot and call was on 10 metres SSB. This found Steve VK7CW but due to my weak signal, we switched to CW and made an easy (559, 439) contact.
Next to 40 metres where I picked up Gerard VK2IO/P and Bernard VK2IB/3 also on CW
Joe VK3YSP/P and Julie VK3FOWL/P were both strong Line of Site contacts on 40m SSB from Mt. StLeonard
Wanting to qualify the summit on CW, I switched down to 80 metres and had a solid 579 report from Steve VK3MEG and 339 from Warren VK3BYD

9 x contacts in total. VK2, VK3 and VK7.
6 x S2S from VK2 and VK3 all on 40 metres.

Time to pack up. Propagation had deteriorated even further. I now wanted to explore the remainder of the 40 mile break and Boundary Tracks down to McCarthy Spur.

 

Summit Information for VK3/VT-039

Mccarthy Spur – 938m, 6 points

Association: Australia – Victoria  Region: Victoria – West/South Gippsland
Latitude: 37 49 12 S, Longitude: 145 55 55 E

Activating from McCarthy Spur

Activating from McCarthy Spur

Phone coverage a bit patchy.
Activation time 21 minutes.

McCarthy Spur is a real scrub bash. I looked for some easier alternatives off Montane Rd but ended up back at the open gate on Boundary Rd and took the most direct line possible towards the summit and inside the activation zone.
Lots of fallen timber, low scrub, high scrub, tree ferns and rocks. I tried using fallen trees as a bridge over some of the worst areas. The trees were not that big in diameter and I did have one fall. I even straddled one and crossed over on my arse!
Finding a relatively clear space above the 920 metre contour, I set the antenna up as best possible but it could not avoid contact with all the foliage.  I used the ground stake to support the squid pole and tied the ends off to a low bush and a dead rotten tree.
After putting out a spot, I had a quick response on 40 metres CW from Steve VK7CW followed by Gerard VK2IO/p – then nothing. I could not hear anything much on SSB
Wanting to catch Nick VK2AOH/P, I spotted again on 30 metres CW and got an instant reply from Lou VK5EEE and then caught up with Nick.
Also wanting to qualify the summit for the 6 and 10 metre Challenge, I gave 6 metres a go – hoping to get a local station and avoid the poor HF propagation.
This resulted in a solid 5×9, 57 SSB contact wit Bernard VK3AV not too far away in King Lake.
That done, I thought I would try 80 metres CW and look for Warren VK3BYD. Firstly this required sorting out the antenna and, in doing so, I broke the rotten tree at one end creating a tangled mess of wire, tree and squid pole. The SOTA Gods had said “Enough!” I said – something else!
Time to pack up and scrub bash back to the car. Knowing the general direction, my descent was some what different and by no means any easier.

6 x contacts VK2, VK3, VK5 and VK7
2 x 40 metres CW, 2 x 30 metres CW and 2 x 6 metres SSB
2 x S2S on 40 and 30 Metres CW

 

DX highlight of today was again working Takeshi JS1UEH for another S2S.
It was great to get so many CW contacts of which many would not have occurred using phone.
Pleased with the 10 metre JA SSB contact and with the performance on 6 metres plus that of the VX7r on 2 metres. The extension to the doublet feeder gave good matching on 50.150 mHz

Observations were that no VK4 stations were activating and only one (VK4RF / VK4HA) was worked.
One only VK6 worked – VK6FLEW not heard and no reception to ZL
Due to the solar storm, VK1 stations when worked, were very low as were close in VK2s.

Very happy with the station performance. Battery held up well, power output did drop due to PA temperature caused by operations on 10 and 6 metres plus the direct sun. The ability for instant band changing is a great asset in portable operation.
The new Samsung S5 phone surpasses that of the previous Galaxy Nexus on the Telstra service. On days such as todat
I enjoy the challenge of portable, low power and often remote activations; of what can be achieved with basic equipment plus working with whatever the propagation conditions bring.
These conditions force us to experiment (the crux of amateur radio) trying different bands, modes, antenna systems and the like.

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Mt. Toorongo from just north of Neerim Junction

 

Travel Notes

Departure from East Brighton at 6:10 AM. Head east via Wellington Rd, Mulgrave Freeway and Princess Freeway / Hwy to the Noojee turn off at the old Cobb & Co Robin Hood. 50 minutes to the Garfield North Rd (Dingo Ridge Access) and 1 hour to the Robin Hood.
Neerim South (fuel and shops available) is 1 hour 15 minutes from home and Neerim Junction a further 10 minutes along the road.
Noojee is 1 hour 35 minutes from home. General store, hotel and camp ground. Water Wheel walk 10 minutes

Noojee Area Map

From Noojee
Taking the Mt. Baw Baw Tourist Rd, proceed past the Mt. Toorongo falls rd to the intersection of the Noojee / Moe Rd at Icy Creek (10 minutes). The narrow winding bitumen road gets narrower and even more winding from here with no lines marked.

Balantines Saddle 18 minutes from Noojee.
Link Rd 33 minutes from Noojee.
Mundic Rd 42 minutes from Noojee.
Mt. Toorongo Rd. 48 minutes from Noojee
Mt. Toorongo Fire Tower 53 minutes from Noojee (Summit access parking is 5 minutes back along the road in the direction that you came from.
Summit access parking at 4WD track in slight gully. Track heads north east away from the summit. (Approximately 44 kms from Noojee)

Mt Horsfall

Back track along Mt, Toorongo and Mundic Rds to Link Rd.
Continue on Link Rd towards the Toorongo Rd,
Toorongo Rd, veer left and north west than take the sign posted 40 mile break track (seasonal road closure gate – (Open 30th October to mid weekend after Queens Birthday long weekend)
This is also known as Road 20.  19 minutes and 6 kilometres from the Mt. Toorongo Range Summit Car Park. (Time and distance reference now from here.)
Follow the 40 mile break that is a good dirt and gravel road / track. Easy high range 4wd. Possible in the dry with a high clearance 2wd. I did use low range just to get out of first gear on occasions. Ignore Rd Number three that is an alternative access route if the first gate is closed. Ron and I used this in 2014. 12 minutes, 5 kms
Mt Horsfall summit and Trip. Yarra Ranges N.P 27 minutes, 17 kms.

The 40 Mile Break continues much the asma and is quite pretty traversing the Yarra and Latrobe river divide through stands of Vic Ash. Beware of Logging!
At the west end, ignore North Lock Rd, Petershank Rd and an un-named Rd at 1 kM intervals.
I continued to the locked gate of Boundary Rd where it enters the Yarra Catchment area. 18 minutes, 9 kms from Horsfall or 52 minutes, 26 kms from the start of the 40 Mile Break

Start of Boundary Track – heads south into a Water Catchment area. (seasonally closed 1 May to 30 November) at the junction of Radford Rd.20160101_150535[1]
From this gate, the southern gate and vehicle park for McCarthy Spur is 12 kms, 25 minutes south along Boundary Rd.
Boundary Rd is a very good gravel and dirt road but, like all such roads, watch out for loose surfaces on the bends.

From the south gate on Boundary Rd, I took The McCarthy Spur Rd then Camp Creek Rd south to the Noojee Poweltown Rd and where the road from Neerim Junction joins up  at the bottom of the big hill. This is 18 minutes, 12 kms from the south gate on Boundary Rd.20160101_150532[1]
Both roads are good gravel / dirt.

90 minutes from here to home in light traffic.

Vehicle used 80 series HX80J Toyota Landcruiser (Normally aspirated Diesel) Mud tyres fitted.
Always drive to the conditions. Times will vary due to road, weather vehicle conditions plus driving experience in those conditions.
It is always advisable to carry a chainsaw, some recovery equipment and a fire extinguisher.
Observe road closures, Timber Harvesting Zones and Logging UHF CB channels.
Other traffic will include logging trucks and motor cycles plus 4WD vehicles.

Mt. Toorongo Tower

Mt. Toorongo Tower

 

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