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.

Sunday
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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One thought on “Dead Centre SOTA : A Trip to the High Country

  1. Pingback: Eagles Peaks and VK3/VE-123 | VK3IL Blog

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