A last Winter Foray?

Technically Winter ceases on the 31st of August. Nature knows differently with trees already in full bloom and the days being a bit longer, a bit warmer. Still the weather is a curious beast and many a person has made a career on trying to understand it!



The weekend of the 27th / 28th of August was forecast to be fine with Sunday now being the nicest day for a trip out. During the week had been cold and wet with snow down to low levels before fining up on Friday. The extra day should help to dry the bush out a bit.

Sunday 28th of August 6:30 AM. Our intrepid 80 Series landcruiser heads out on another adventure. The sky is clear, not overly cold. A good day to be out!


The upper fall of Snobs Creek

One objective for the day was to keep up some training for our USA trip with some reasonable walks but not as strenuous as the 25K in a day effort. Back to an area I know quite well, The Rubicon & Snobs Creek Valley area a couple of hours north east of Melbourne.

First up a return to Pyramid Hill VK3/VN-005. A drive up in all but the winter season where the road is seasonally closed. At this time of year it is simply a case of heading south on Snobs Creek Rd to Number 5 Rd then parking at its junction with Royston Range Tk (Seasonal Road Closure gate just up the track!) Why start off on an easy summit you may well ask?
1. I wanted to determine the altitude of the remaining snow.
2. I was not sure if there would be access (read on…)
3. Pyramid Hill is the first summit along my proposed route.

Well, I half anticipated what ended up happening. There were warning signs along the northern section of Snobs Creek Rd that logging was occurring in the area and that access and roads could be restricted or closed. On walking up the 2wd section of Royston Range Tk I came across a Timber Harvesting Zone with the 4wd track across the Royston Range being definitely off limits. Got to within 500m of the summit too; Bugger! And I was right 20160828_092636on time for my proposed 23:30 hrs utc (9:30 AM) start up. So much for my schedule now!

Plan B

Proceed to Bill Head VK3/VN-004 located a short distance further south along Snobs Creek Rd.
Previously I had accessed Bill Head from the north via Conn’s Gap Rd. This requires a little bit of low range 4WD in a slippery climb from 1180m to 1270m in 600m once past Conn’s Gap. Once at the top of this incline, one is on the highest section of Conn’s Gap Rd; all that is then required is a 200m bash through logging debris and regrowth to 1300m then head south along the spur towards the 1370m Bill Head. Sounds easier than it is and I had never actually made it to the summit, rather calling it quits once inside the activation zone.

This time my access route was from the south, 1.1 km east along Conn’s Gap Rd from its junction with Snobs Creek Rd and Snobs Link Rd. This location is a relatively flat area, plenty of parking and at the start of the spur leading to Bill Head from the north. Altitude about 1130m.

Bill HeadI got out first to have a look. Some signs of logging, regrowth but not too bad and with reasonable open sections. 2.1km along the spur (all off track) to the summit. with snow from 1300m. Time took was 1hr 20 minutes (9:50 to 11:10 AM). Not sure if it was any quicker but I was at the top this time. A very large, flat and open summit with plenty of choice as to where to activate from.
That I did not fall over once leads testament that this route is a bit easier. The run along the spur was dead easy but for the snow cover on some sections that created “sink holes” when trodden on.



Operational by 01:24 hrs UTC, Peter VK3PF pounced on my 80m CW call. Not sure if I had a spot out but did have APRS tracking (VK3CAT-13) operational via my SPOT Messenger.
Peter was the only 80m contact, followed by 4 further contacts on 40m CW, 6 om 40m SSB including a (ground wave?) S2S with Mark VK3ASC on VK2/RI-004.
Last contact in the log was Ron VK3AFW on 6m CW, proving that the higher HF and low VHF bands can be a substitute for the now unreliable 40m NVIS.

My descent was via a more direct route. I had intended to run a steep easterly spur down to Conn’s Gap Rd. The direction changed some what when I hit a wall of thick regrowth. The easiest path seemed to be to the north so I took that. This was a real scrub bash, helped with gravity and I took a few tumbles. Definitely not recommended for an ascent. 1370m down to 1220m in under 500 metres. It took 17 minutes.
In retrospect, I should have tried the south side of the spur instead, a 750 metre descent to 1170m but saving 1 kilometre on the road. As it was, it was 4.3 kilometres, 40 minutes of easy road walking back to the car.

Back at the Snobs Creek Road Junction, there is Snobs Link Rd to the east that heads to the main Eildon to Warburton Rd, Bullfight Track to the west (seasonally closed) and Coys Rd to the south (sometimes closed).
I took the open Coys Rd to where it intersects Federation Rd, continued generally south on Federation Rd to the Royston Gap. I continued generally south on (depending on your map) Sandstone Rd or Royston River Rd to the signed junction of Sandstone and Cambarville Rds (Note – if wanting to continue south along Cambarville Rd, a sharp right hand turn is required at this intersection as Sandstone Rd is straight ahead!

Keppel Ridge VK3/VN-006 1104 Metres

8.8km and under 30 minutes from my Conn’s Gap Rd parking spot, I was at an ideal parking spot recommended by Allen VK3ARH on Sandstone Rd and nearly directly adjacent to the summit. Time about 1:40PM.

Keppel Ridge
The off track route to the summit is quite a slog for the most part. Starting off in the gully where the car was parked, I quickly exited both it and the tangly growth to commence a steep ascent of relatively open forest.
Steep? Starting off at 925 metres, the going is constant to 1070 metres in 450 metres taking 40 minutes. From here it plateaus out to the 1104 metre summit that is located to the north and east on the edge of a near sheer drop into the Torbreck  river valley. This last bit is an easy 270 metres and took just 8 minutes.
Got to admit of feeling a little stuffed so took longer than normal to set up.

First in the log was Steve VK7CW on 80m followed surprisingly by Allen VK3ARH (giving Allen a completed summit!)
5 further 40m cw contacts to VK2,3 and 4. Worked VK3s LED & GRK on Mt. Macedon for an 40m SSB S2S plus Warren ZL2AJ (20m SSB) on ZL1/VK-139 plus John ZL1BYZ on 20m cw. Whilst looking for VK6, I again worked Jan OK2PDT (Czech Republic) on 20m CW long path.
Tried in vain to work Ron VK3AFW on 6, 10, 15 or 40 metres. It was now getting cool and time to head off. Last contact was at 05:36 but it was closer to 04:00 hrs utc before I headed back to the car. Roughly following my GPS track, my descent took less than 20 minutes for the 720 metre trek.

A quick cup of coffee and snack, then home by just after 7:00pm with a stop to pick up some takeaway from our favourite Indian Restaurant in Ormond


A not so beautiful sight off Cambarville Road

Note to activators: Phone coverage quite good on all summits with the Galaxy S5 phone which is way better than the previous Galaxy Nexus.

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25Ks for the day!

I had a leave pass for Saturday the 13th of August. Nan was involved with her quilting groups “Quilt Show” so I headed out to an area I know quite well.
The plan for this trek was to see how I coped with a long hike with some 15kg in the back pack; all in preparation for our USA trip and hopefully a return to Europe next year.

As Nan had the Landcruiser, I was relegated to the VW Caddy. A very nippy work van but it does not like corrugated roads that much as all the gear in the shelves flies about.
Well, on an earlier trip to Mt. Strickland, I recalled the Acheron Way was bitumen and, on consultation with my maps, remained so nearly all the way south from Narbethong to the trail head that we use to walk up to Mt. Ritchie.
Google maps showed bugger all difference between getting there via Warburton (96 km and 1hr: 45 minutes) and Narbethong (109 km and 1hr: 50 minutes) both measured without traffic.
So, at 6:30 am Saturday morning, with chainsaw, shovel and recovery mats, I headed out to the Acheron River where it crosses the Acheron way at the junction of Road 15.
I started my walk at 8:28 am and by 9:01 am was at the road 15 / road 10 track junction, a distance of 2.2 km and elevation gain of 357 metres. WX was misty up to the track junction. A short break for a snack and a drink then onwards and upwards. 5.3 km and an elevation gain of 352 metres.

This second section is a really pleasant undulating walk. I spied 2 Lyrebirds and a Kangaroo. I was now in pleasant sunshine up until I approached the summit where the cloud / mist came back to visit me – making it quite chilly.
I was on the summit at 10:20 am exactly on schedule and could see via Sota Spotter that Warren VK3BYD was already activating.
Took a little longer than planned to set up due to the cold; Time for the “I” gloves! Sent out some automatic CQ calls on 7.032 without reply and was about to send Warren and SMS when I heard his reply. First contact S2S!
Got 5 more on cw then tried 30 metres without luck. finishing off on 7.090 ssb with a further 6 contacts.

First contact 00:41, last 01:04 hrs utc.
Commenced the return trek at 11:20 am, and was back at the road 10 / 15 road junction 53 minutes later; and back at the car right on 12:40 pm making it 1hr: 20 minutes for the return journey and 30 minutes quicker than the ascent.

A quick bite and a coffee then a short 2.8 km drive to where Mt. Vinegar road intersects the Acheron Way (car park on the side of the track)
Departing just after 1:00 pm, I had hoped to be at the road 27 / road 8 junction in about 30 minutes. This was not the case; it taking 46 minutes to traverse the 2.5 km and 173 metre ascent. Not sure if this was a result of having just completed the 15 km Ritchie Trek, not having had enough time for lunch to have kicked in or a combination of the two by I felt pretty knackered; and I was only 1/2 way there!

The next 262 meter elevation gain was spread over 1.8 km as I deviated off the main road and took the more direct fire break route straight up the main ridge line. This was steep going and a mistake. Finally made the summit by 2:35 pm and was on air 10 minutes later from just on the edge of the logging coup; the squid pole supported by a handy timber post. Funnily enough, I was not far off my alert time, having used up the time gained on the Mt. Ritchie descent on climbing Mt. Vinegar.


Just off the summit trying to avoid the gusty wind!

A quick activation, 40 metres only with 5 cw and 6 ssb contacts. Finished lunch while operating.
First contact VK3PF AT 04:47 and last VK7ALH at 05:05 hrs utc. Gave out a couple of RD (Remembrance Day Contest) numbers.
Like Mt. Ritchie, the descent was much quicker.
The descent commenced at 3:22 pm and I kept to the main road rather than taking the fire break. The road route from where the fire break intersects is 1.1 km from top to bottom whist the firebreak length is 642 metres with an elevation change of 138 metres.
Back at the road 27 /road 8 junction at 3:46 pm and at the car by 4:14 pm: my descent time more akin to the anticipated ascent.
More coffee and a snack then homeward bound; 2 minutes prior to my scheduled 6:30 pm

For the record:
Total walking was 25 km. Ascents and descents each a little over 1000 metres.
Walking time approximately 5.5 hours making the average speed 4.55 km/h.

Screenshot 2016-08-15 22.26.00.pngClick to view map

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VK1 SOTA Party

The 6th / 7th of August 2016 was the 4th holding of this popular event. I have participated in the past three, not having completed my KX3 kit in time for the first in 2013.
These activities see a large number of activators and activations planned and on this occasion there were around 30 activation alerts from VK8, VK5, VK4, VK3, VK2, VK1 and ZL.
The main objective for activators, apart from qualifying the summit with 4 contacts, is to maximise the number of summit to summit (S2S) contacts.

A bit of experience and planning can help reach the objectives.
Select a summit that is not too difficult to reach; possibly one that you have previously activated.
The summit should have good phone coverage. The ability to see who is where plus self spot is practically essential.
As the main activity will be between 23:00 hrs and o1:00 hrs utc, make sure you arrive on the summit and are ready to activate on time.
Be comfortable. This time I was able to set up in some sunshine. If the WX is to be inclement, look at summits with shelter or take your own.
It may be worth putting a bit more effort into the antenna orientation; particularly for higher bands and DX opportunities.
Have fully charged batteries, both radio and phone.
Take a SOTA watch alert print out with you.

My selected summit was Mt. Mitchell, VK3/VN-012. 935 metres, 6 points and a 2wd drive up. Located on the Black Range to the west of Buxton, it is 2 hours from home and has reasonable phone coverage. It also provides options for follow up summits in the immediate area.
There is no views but the bonus is that the activation site (Black Range Rd – north past Ures Rd. TL Jackson track and note a side track <becomming over grown> that offers a clearing to activate from) is sheltered from the worst of any wind.20160807_104328[1]

Propagation was typical of recent times. No 40 metre NVIS to speak of, reasonable daytime opportunities on 80 metres and DX possibilities on 20 metres.

First contact at 23:04 was VK3HN/P on nearby (17km south) Mt. St. Leonard VK3/VC-006 and last was at 00:37 with VK5NHG/P on VK5/SE-008

Summary of my contacts.
Pre UTC 16 contacts and 10 post UTC:
80 metre ssb – 4 x S2S pre utc & 1 x S2S post utc: Total 5, S2S =5
80 metre cw – 1 x S2S pre utc, 2 x S2S  & 1 x chaser post utc. Total 4, S2S = 3
40 metre ssb – 6 x S2S pre utc, 7 x S2S post utc. Total 13, S2S = 13
40 metre cw – 1 x S2S & 3 x chasers pre utc, none post utc. Total 4, S2S = 1
20 metre ssb -1 x S2S pre utc (ZL2ATH)
VK8GM was heard on 20 metres 5×9.

Next up was Sugarloaf Peak VK3/VN-011, 950 metres and also 6 points.
Sugarloaf Peak is located 10 kilometres practically due east from Mt. Mitchell and is accessed via the Buxton to Marysville Rd – Mt. Margret Rd – Cerberus Rd where there is a carpark, toilet, camping and picnic facilities at the trail head. From here there are two options to reach Sugarloaf Peak.

The easiest is the Canyon track which is a short 30 minute / 700 metre walk and rock scramble whilst the Wells Cave route is a similar time and distance full on rock climb. I took the easier route. Reminded me a little of out time at Machu Picchu20160807_112839[1]
Sugarloaf Peak is at the southern end of the Cathedral Mountains and located in the Cathedral State Park. Phone coverage is very good and the view on a clear day is fantastic.

Plenty of people walking the trail to and the Razorback ridge beyond. Even had a drone flying overhead. They certainly make an annoying sound! cw is much sweeter!! I was on the air by 02:30 and attempted a 40 metre ssb S2S  contact with Matt VK1MA/P but whilst I could receive Matt quite well, my signal was barely readable. At about this time I noticed a tangle in my feedline but doubt that this was of much consequence; rather that the previous poor 40 metre propagation had deteriorated further.


Wayna Picchu Peru

First actual contact in the log was Gerard VK2IO/P on VK2/ST-006 on 40 metres cw. I had two further 40m cw contacts into Newcastle and northern Tasmania plus an 80 metre cw contact with Warren VK3BYD at home near Wangaratta.
Finally caught up with Matt on 80 metres ssb and finished off with Ron VK3AFW and Ken VK3KIM both portable now on Mt. Strickland (15km south) on 2 metres fm


Looking south to Marysville, Mts Gordon & Strickland.

Operational from 02:30 to 03:08 hrs utc.
7 contacts in the log. 4 x S2S
3 x 40 metre cw including 1 x S2S
1 x 80 metre cw.
1 x 80 metre ssb S2S
2 x 2 metre FM both S2S

Final summit for the day was Mt. Dom Dom. Convenient because it is on the way home.

Mt. Dom Dom VK3/VN-017 is 728 metres and 4 points.
It is the site of a plane crash in 1974 involving the wife of my father’s employer Dom Dom aircraft investigation summary  and more recently the mysterious disappearance of bush walker Warren Meyer in 2008. The possible scenario relating to Warren’s disappearance is a warning to us all!

20160807_161802[1]On my previous activation, due to high winds and being in the VW Caddy, I had parked at the Dom Dom Saddle carpark (toilets & picnic facilities) and walked about 1.7 km along Dom Dom Rd to where a seasonally closed road takes you over towards Mt. Vinegar.
At this point, Dom Dom Rd definitely becomes a 4WD track due to the slippery red clay surface. Approximately 250 metres from the Mt. Vinegar Rd gate along Dom Dom Rd there is a 4WD track that heads up the hill in a north east direction. This track, whilst not straight, is the clearest route towards the summit and will take you, with some deviations west up to the 700 metre contour line that is also the approximate cut line between logging and old growth.By following your nose, you can cross into the activation zone without too much scrub bashing. I had previously activated right from the summit and deemed it was not worth the effort. Nice views of the Yarra Valley and a distant Melbourne from the 700 metre mark.


Looking south to Marysville, Mts Gordon & Strickland.

Note that this is the route that I took on the way down. My ascent was from a point a few 100 metres further east, intending to see if there was an easier route by following the logging cut line. The initial going was tough – reminiscent of North Hells Gate but soon got easier with old 4WD and animal tracks; but not as clear as the route I took back down!

Short activation, using the short squid pole and light weight doublet antenna.
Operational 0517 hrs to 0534 hrs, it taking about 40 minutes to walk and set up from where I parked the car (at the start of the second 4WD track).

8 x contacts in total including 2 x S2S
5 x 40 metre cw
1 x 80 metre cw
2 x 40 metre ssb.
Descended by the aforementioned route and home by 08:00 hrs (6pm)
Take away Indian and a bottle of wine for dinner.
Cheers all, Tony






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Trials and Tribulations

Nothing like trialing some new kit in the field.
I have been doing this for the past few activations. Firstly has been some new Sanyo Eneloop Pro batteries inside the KX3 and secondly a light weight and compact  5.4 metre squid pole and doublet antenna.

Not much to say about the batteries except that they do what they claim, hold their charge. After 3 years, the ones from Jaycar were not holding charge.
Purchased 8 of the Eneloop Pros via Ebay at a good price.

The new squid pole also came from Ebay. The delivery time eclipsed the quoted time by many weeks, it arriving in the mail within 7 days.
The top two sections are extremely thin and practically useless but the remainder provide an effective antenna support, albeit will bend over to be nearly horizontal.
Pole specs:
Material: Carbon fiber
Butt diameter: 24mm
Top diameter: 1mm
Sections: 16
Closed length: 43cm / 16.9in
Extended length: Approx. 5.4m / 17.72ft
Weight: Approx. 212g / 7.5oz
Package weight: 284g / 10oz

The antenna uses light weight hook up wire from Jaycar and each 12.5 metre leg is a different colour (Red and Blue). The feeder is about 6 metres of old 300 ohm TV ribbon I had lying around. The centre insulator the inside plasticated seal of a hand cream container. I am using a single cable reel to wind it all on. This is done in stages. First one full leg, then the feeder followed by the remaining leg. A short length of builders line is attached to the end of each leg.
The different colours is to help prevent tangling. Red and blue are easier to see on the ground than black. The builders line is fluorescent yellow.

1. Select a suitable central location for the pole. This should contain some structure such as a bush, tree of post to attach to. The short length of the pole may be compensated for by strapping the pole higher onto the support. I use short pull down ladder straps rather than elastic ones. Idealy, you want a relatively clear area 10 metres either side of centre and it is also nice if their happens to be something to tie the end off to.
2. Walk out the 10 metres with the whole antenna on the reel and commence to wind off whilst walking towards the centre; laying the wire on the ground.
3. At the centre pole location, wind off the feed line, then proceed to lay out the other leg in as close as possible to the opposite direction of that of the first leg, laying it too on the ground.
4. Return to centre with the now empty cable reel. Pull in a few metres of each antenna leg and try to ensure there are no snags on either leg or the feeder.
5. Attach antenna to the pole. Simply align a couple of holes in the centre support and slip the pole through them. Place a bit of tape over the pole and central support to assist in it not being pulled off when tensioning each leg.
Raise each section of the telescopic pole, giving each section an upwards twist to lock into place.
6. Strap pole to support when full length is reached.
7. Walk out to the end of one leg. It may help to run the wire through your hand in order to clear any snags. Then tie off loosely to any convenient support.
8. Proceed to the other leg in the same manner as the first. Tie this one off a bit firmer than the first leg.
9. Return to the first leg and tension up for best ground clearance without pulling the whole thing over or off the pole.
10. A hint to obtain a flatter top and more height is to attach a stick to the builders line as a weight and toss it over a tree branch within reach. Tension the line and tie off to a lower accessible branch.
11. Return to centre. Straighten out the feeder. If possible, keep as much off the ground as possible.

Now, in the field I found the tape at the top essential after pulling the wire off the pole on numerous occasions. I also found simply tying the builders line to the wire was not reliable and insulators get caught up. Instead, I soldered the end of each leg back onto itself so as to make a small eye loop and attach the builders line to that!

Another discovery was the varying connectivity of BNC connectors; having fitted a very short length of RG58 to the 300 ohm feeder to enable a BNC connection onto the KX3 to be used. Now I just use a BNC to 6mm plug adapter. I have soldered and heat shrunk short bits of figure 8 flex onto each conductor of the feeder and fitted cable lugs to each end that simply fit over the screw post terminals of the adapter.

Trial activations from:
11/Jun/2016 VK3/VC-018 (Mt Buninyong). Quite pleased with the performance but not initial deployment. Worked DX to JA, W6 and ZL1 on 15 metres cw plus regular chasers on 4o metres cw & ssb.


Mt Warrenheip from the Buninyong Tower




2/Jun/2016 VK3/VC-019 (Mt Warrenheip). Located very close to Mt. Buninyong using the light weight antenna and pole. Seemed better being a bit higher off the ground?
Worked ZL on 15 and 30 metres cw. Found a nice spot to operate just off the side of the access road before reaching the messy summit.

12/Jun/2016 VK3/VC-007 (Mt Macedon). Again using the regular antenna and pole. Operated from a dis used 4×4 track just north of the clearing where all the comms equipment towers are. Had reasonable phone coverage plus was out of the way.

19/Jun/2016 VK3/VC-002 (Mt Donna Buang). Used the regular antenna and pole. Looking for DX. S2S with JJ1SWI/1 but failed with Andrew VK3ARR / HL1ZIH. Did also work JS1IFKand ZL1BYZ on 15 metres cw and ZL3CC on 30 metres cw.

19/Jun/2016 VK3/VC-027 (Mt Little Joe). Light weight kit used. All fits into the back pack. First trial without a back up. BNC connector issues but otherwise OK. Regular chasers on 40 metres cw & ssb plus ZL1BYZ on 30m cw.
Note that the access track (off Little Joe Track from the Old Warburton hwy near the Back Stairs track) has been bulldozed. Just as steep and slippery if wet, just mostly clear of obstacles. The dozer has continues over the summit and obliterated my little cairn.

03/Jul/2016 VK3/VC-029 (Briarty Hill). With Nan. Bridge was out on Sunnyside Rd / Killara Rd where it crosses Wandin Yallock Creek. Had to about face and approach via Coldstream and Gruyere Rd. Subsequently was late on arrival.
Nice invigorating walk up the goat track; walking poles put to good use. Using the light weight kit. Still having BNC connector issues and first experience of the antenna pulling off the pole – probably the holes in the centre insulator are now not so tight.
Worked chasers on 80, 40 and 30 metres cw and ssb. Best DX Andrew ZL3CC on 30 metres cw. Late lunch in Lilydale. nice day out.

09/Jul/2016 VK3/VC-025 (Mt Dandenong). Light weight kit. Walked up from the CFA station. Had hurt my back during the week and wanted a bit of a walk to stretch it out.
Also a run for the Landcruiser to test out a recent radiator repair and oil leak.
Cold and overcast on the summit, not too many about. Third time lucky with the BNC connection; now using the BNC adapter. Otherwise, performed OK with regular chasers on 40 metres and one on 80 metres cw.


Mt Strickland is a good antenna test site

6/Jul/2016 VK3/VN-030 (Mt Strickland). Using the regular antenna. This was a longer run for the Landcruiser that still has oil leak issues. WX was too good to stay at home so spent over an hour on the summit.Regular chasers on 40 metres cw and ssb plus VK5CZ/P on 15 metres cw. Surprise contact also on 15 metres with Allen VK3ARH at home. Te higher bands can be useful to compensate for lack of lower band NVIS so long as they are quiet.


Winter activating! View is east towards Lake Mountain and Federation Range

16/Jul/2016 VK3/VN-027 (Mt Gordon).New direct route from Mt. Strickland to Marysville via Paradise Plains Rd. This road intersects the main road into Marysville from Narbethong at the first roundabout in town. The road is called Lyell Rd. Here. Good 2WD gravel. 1 hour and 10 minutes between the last contact on Mt. Strickland and first from Mt Gordon. Still sunny and warmish. Worked 20 amd 40 metres cw and SSB with the regular antenna. Set up on the east nor east side of the summit, with the antenna pole  supported on a tree down the embankment and me on the side of the road, making the feeder completely off the ground, a first. All worked ok and a full page of contacts.

Test conclusion:
Use the regular antenna and pole where access is easy, where the activation may be long or the WX extremely windy.
The light weight set up is best suited for short activations and where there is a considerable hike in. It is certainly more comfortable not lugging the heavy duty squid pole over long distances!
BNC adapter has fixed up the connectivity issues. Seems to be considerable variance in BNC connector construction.
Probably to remove the second top section of the squid pole (already done the top bit) as it can be a pain when collapsing the pole to find it has fallen into the pole. This light weight pole is more finicky to set up and pull down but its size and weight make it worth while. I will be taking it on our up-coming USA and Canada trip.


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Little Yarra & Latrobe River Catchment Summits

The week leading up to this weekend (14th & 15th of May) had been quite wet. The weekend itself was looking OK with Saturday being the pick of the days. A good opportunity to pick up some local summits, last activated Australia Day 2015 marked by an unexpected incident near Hyde Hill.
Following the same route as previous, I headed out through Wandin and Yarra Junction along the Warburton Hwy. Progress on the Warburton Hwy in the early morning was quite good but be warned. There are numerous traffic speed restrictions through the town ships and beyond that can make the going quite slow. Also a magnet for traffic cameras.
Turn off at the Old Warburton Hwy between Yarra Junction and Wesburn then look out for the Mount Bride Road, if heading east, located on a left hand bend from the Old Warburton Hwy. A short distance up the road is Burns Rd (seasonally closed). In winter you will not proceed past the gate but other times there is access to the old fire trail that heads along the Mt. Bride divide. In the dry this short section of Burns Rd would be trafficable in a 2WD but not this day, being very sloppy in the dip past the gate. There is adequate space to park a vehicle adjacent to where the Mt. Bride trail heads off to the east.


VK3/VC-009, Mt Bride – 898m, 4 Points20160514_102859[1]

Activation time 26 minutes.
Good phone access.
I was set up & operational just prior to my alert time and promptly had VK2GAZ, VK7CW, VK3ARH & VK2IO in the log on 40m CW and VK3PF on 80m CW inside of 10 minutes. Not great Near Vertical Incident Sky Wave propagation. Struggled with a XMode contact with Rik VK3EQ/P at Warragul and VK1MA – both on 40 metres SSB (15 minutes for these last two phone contacts shows just how good CW can be in patchy conditions!)
Packed up prior to UTC roll over and headed towards the next one.

VK3/VC-011, Britannia Range – 815m, 4 Points

Activation time 23 minutes.
Good phone access.
20160514_122650[1]Last time I was able to drive right up close to the activation zone & I was hoping to do the same this time. If it had been dry it would have been easy, in the still damp conditions it was anything but. I had already deflated the tyres when I hit the Britannia Range Track a little further south off the Mt. Bride Rd. It looked (and was) greasy – the surface being wet clay. Compressor was on and the front and rear diff locks soon engaged. An interesting ride part way up. Being solo, I abandoned the idea of driving up all the way when I got to the last little incline that looked nasty. Was able to turn around and park off the side of the track and walked the rest of the way.
I am not convinced the nominated height of the Britannia Range summit is correct? There is certainly a discrepancy between Forest Explore and the Garmin maps and the nominated height. Following up on my prior activation, I intended to investigate further!

It looks like a small section of Britannia Range Track enters the activation zone if the nominated height is 815 metres but the aforementioned map shows the summit being above 820 metres & by Garmin 10 metre contours, above 830 metres but below 840 metres. Forest Explorer has it between 810 & 820 metres.

This means the Britannia Range Track is NOT inside the activation area; missing out by a whisker!
Now, GPS altimeters are far from accurate so I decided this time to head to the top.
There is a very overgrown 4×4 track that heads towards the summit off the Britannia Range Track. This stops in a small clearing above the 820 metre contour level (Garmin). Proceeding further was a bit of a bush bash. I estimate that I got to within a couple of metres from the top (hard going) From this point I measured a 24 metre altitude change from where I had left the Britannia Range Track and thus I estimate the summit to be at 839 metres by Garmin Contours. Conclusion is that (using Forest Explorer), the summit is closer to 820m than 815m?

Back to the clearing, now determined as definitely being inside the activation zone, I set up and got to work. With the time spent determining the activation zone plus the walk, a short activation was planned.

CW only, worked VK2GAZ / VK2FDU (Fists Down Under), VK2IO & VK3PF on 40 metres. Got Gerard VK2IO again on 20 metres and John ZL1BYZ on 15 metres.
Discovered that I had picked up some leeches on my bush bash. Not the most conducive thing to find whilst on the key! A few on my clothes and 3 puncture marks on my hip. Glad they did not get any lower down! These became large welts during the following week but all clear now!
To the next summit!
Very slippery on the way down. Had to stop for some vehicles coming up – going side ways!

VK3/VC-008, Hyde Hill – 902m, 6 Points

Activation time 14 minutes.
Phone coverage OK to patchy.

What a difference a year or so makes with logging regrowth! Last time I parked at the junction of Black Sands & Big Creek roads and headed up through moderate growth along logging access paths and up to the edge of the logging area that was inside the activation zone. This was not going to happen this time. Instead, I parked on Black Sands Rd right on the edge of the logging & forest boundary and followed the cut line up. This turned out to be reasonably simple with only a few detours required. Forest Explorer has the summit above the 900 metre contour, Garmin has it above 910 metres. I followed the cut line to above the 880 meter contour and set up.


Logging regrowth. Yuk!

Plenty of room for the doublet, following the cut line in a north / south line giving broadside radiation to the east and west.
Worked VK3PF, VK2IO, VK7CW, VK3YY on 40 metres CW and ZL1Byz, VK3AFW & VK6NU on 20 metres CW. Put out a few calls without spotting on 40 metres phone without a response.
Back down to the car and to the final summit, passing the scene of the rollover of last year when, I had contemplated, the possibility of a 4th summit before things happened!

VK3/VT-040, Spion Kopje – 896m, 4 Points

Activation time was actually 80 minutes although the log would indicate 32 minutes.
Good phone coverage.

Lots of logging activity in this area. Timber Harvesting Zones along Outlook Rd and Limberlost Rd. Roads can be closed at any time without notice.


Very windy up top!

Access is straight forward along the walking track. This starts off as a very overgrown vehicle track fro where the walking path diverges up to the south. The path as shown on Garmin V5 Topo map is quite accurate. It is identified with occasional blue and orange  tape tied to trees but does involve some dead reckoning and bush bashing.
This time I went right to the top where there is a large flat rock and small stone cairn. No issue with the activation zone here. Garmin mapping is consistent with the nominated summit height.
Strapped the squid pole to a short tree and got on air. Looks like the broadside antenna radiation was North east and south west so not ideal for Long Path to Europe!

Began with Rik VK3EQ/P and Mitch VK3XDM/P on Mt. Worth for 2 x 40 metre phone summit to summit contacts before working Ian VK5CZ/P on Hallet Hill north of Adelaide on 40 metres CW.
Worked the usual suspects on CW but this time including Rick VK4RF and a surprise from David VK3ANP near Wangaratta. Best contact was John VK6NU on 15 metres CW.
I could hear Mick 2E0YYY/P quite clearly on 20 metres phone and tried for some time for a contact. Signals peaked close to 06:00 hrs utc and, with time marching on, I packed up at 06:20 hrs.

The track back down was not as easy to follow as on the way up and I diverged too far to the west, using the GPS track to correct my travel so as to pick up the old 4WD track back to the car. Missing the 4WD track would not be a good thing. Vegetation is quite dense and lots of really big slippery rock inclines to fall from!
Met a fella from the logging area where I had parked the car. Not sure what he was up to but he was interested that I had been to the summit. Spion Kopje is Dutch African for Spy Rock.
Back at the car, I headed home via Limberlost Rd and past Mt. Beenak. Not sure if this was a great idea as it got me into Timber Harvesting Zones on the wrong side of some gates. In the end, one gate was simply a plastic fence which I drove over (as others had done) to get out. Good mapping and some local knowledge saved the day but some time was wasted in detours and was not so easy in the now dark conditions.
Home via Gembrook just before 7:00 pm local.

Winter is coming!






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Marilyn Monroe


What the heck has Marilyn Monroe got to do with Radio and Communications?
A very good question to ask.
Read on….

With Nan being a NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) member, I could not ignore the invitation to nip up to Bendigo to view the Marilyn Monroe Exhibition held at the Bendigo Art Gallery. We have been to most of the similar events held here and they have been a good day out with the exhibition followed by lunch.

We had an early start from home, the weather was inclement but arrived with some time to spare in Bendigo prior to the 10:00 am opening. Being able to pre-purchase tickets for a nominated time certainly helps avoid the queues. At an earlier event, we had spent some hours queued up in the hot sun waiting to get in. Lessons have been learnt!

Anyway, we enjoyed the exhibition. Turns out Marilyn was no dummy when it comes to business and marketing. She was also a tiny woman going by her dress size. Lots of sound and movie clips on offer including “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend

We had a stroll through the shops and noted that it seemed quieter than previous times and a number of shops were closed or gone completely.Lunch was had at a cafe across the road. Nan & I have been together for too long as, again, we both independently ordered the same meal! Over lunch, the rain bucketed down. Not looking promising for the afternoon’s activities?

VK3/VN-016, Mt Alexander – 741m, 4 Points

Located to the east of the Calder Fwy on the way home, it was but a slight deviation – made longer by some road works on McIvor road requiring a detour via Harcourt. The approach was straightforward along Joseph Young Drive to a T intersection where you turn right to reach the summit just a short distance away. There is a well constructed stone cairn at the summit but I elected to activate from near the T intersection as it would be a bit more out of the way and possibly RF quieter?
The activation zone looks quite vast and the south Trig point would also be inside the zone.
Also, noticed lots of moss & lichen on the road on the way up. Looks like it is cold in winter and also slippery! No problems this time in the mighty VW Caddy.
Commencing the ascent, we could not see the summit for the clouds. The rain had stopped but I was prepared to use the new Bothy Bag.


Mt. Alexander Summit Cairn

Was not too bad once at the top and things only improved!
Mountains are this cats best friends!

Phone coverage Excellent
RF noise – none to speak of.
Drive up summit and lots of places to activate from.


Date:30/Apr/2016 Summit:VK3/VN-016 (Mt Alexander) Call Used:VK3CAT/P Points: 4

Time Call Band Mode Notes
04:11z ZL1BYZ 14MHz CW John 599, 599 great sig
04:13z RM7KW 14MHz CW Victor 559, 579 Russia
04:14z VK7CW 14MHz CW Steve 349, 449
04:19z ZL3CC 14MHz CW Andrew 559, 589
04:24z US7QQ 14MHz CW Alex 339, 339 Ukraine
04:27z RA6LO 14MHz CW Pavel 549, 569 Russia
04:32z VK2IO 10MHz CW Gerard 579, 559
04:35z VK3ARH 10MHz CW Allen 539, 579
04:38z VK2UH 10MHz CW Andrew 329, 329 Tnx
04:41z VK5CZ 10MHz CW Ian 579, 559 solid
04:43z VK5LJ 10MHz CW Laurie 599, 599
04:45z VK3PF 7MHz CW Peter 579, 579
04:47z VK3BYD 7MHz CW Warren 579, 599
04:51z VK1MA 7MHz SSB Matt 5×9, 58
04:52z VK5WG 7MHz SSB Nev 5×9, 57
04:53z VK3FPSR/M 7MHz SSB Peter 5×5, 52
04:53z VK3FQSO 7MHz SSB Amanda 5×5, 52
04:54z VK3FIRM 7MHz SSB Mike 5×9, 58
04:55z VK2EXA 7MHz SSB Greg 5×8, 56
04:56z VK5FBAA/M 7MHz SSB 5×7, 55
04:56z VK3SQ 7MHz SSB Geoff 5×9, 59

A slightly different method of operation this time. First checked out the band propagation then tried 20 metres first. Scored well with my first east European chasers plus ZL & VK7.
Followed this up with some further afield (plus local) VK contacts before hitting the usual 40 meter hustings.

Quite happy with the results in about an hours worth of activation time.Packed up and proceeded back to the Calder Fwy near Elphinstone.
Only hiccup was the traffic through King St in Melbourne CBD. This seems to be a worsening problem with even the off ramps from the Westgate Fwy (if taking the Bolte Bridge or Western Ring Rd / Geelong Fwy) presenting major traffic congestion at most times.


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Andrew Hill & CruiserKhana

The TLCCV CruiserKhana was on again 15th to 17th Of April at the club property just out of Yarck north east of Melbourne off the Melba Highway.
Once again I was running the communications systems with Michael Martin; based on UHF CB and Motorola Digital Radios.
The competition stared on the Friday night with an optional night drive, finishing by midnight so needed to have the system up and running by 6:00 PM.

Well, as per last year (but this time April rather than March) I headed up early on the Friday morning; breakfast at Yarra Glen then north into the King Lake N.P. Andrew Hill is accessed from Gordon Bridge Rd. The turn off comes up quite quickly once over Mt. Slide and it is a hard left hand turn at the intersection with the Melba Hwy onto the gravel road.
Head south down Gordon Bridge Rd. and cross the infant Yea River, not far past the Yea River, the road swings to the west and, passing Moore Ct on the left, turn right at Mountain Creek Track which is about 1 kilometre from the bridge.
Mountain Creek track is closed to general traffic about 150 metres in off the Gordon Bridge Rd. There is a large clearing suitable for car parking.


From here, unless you are an authorised person, it is foot travel only. Walk around the vehicle gate and over Mountain Creek to the intersection of Andrew Hill Track. Turn right and start heading up!
At first the fire trail heads south east, following the contours of the hill but then the climb up the spur is steady from 400 metres up to 625 (according to the sign) metres at the summit. (Note the listed height, must check this next time but I believe it is wrong!)
The distance from Mountain Creek is listed as 2.2 kilometres and this took me a solid 1/2 hour albeit one break to take a work phone call.

Summit Information for VK3/VN-020. Andrew Hill – 675m(?), 2 points

Phone coverage is excellent.
The summit activation zone is at the junction of Andrew Hill Track and Dusty Miller Track.
Sign post good to support a squid pole.
Activation time 55 minutes. plus 10 minutes for set up and again to pack up.
Starting off on 40 metres CW, I quickly qualified the summit; contacts with Nick VK2AOH, Steve VK7CW, Rick VK4RF and Gerard VK2IO.
As it seemed the NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) was not happening, I moved down to 80 metres CW but nobody worked here. I then tried 30 metres CW and could weakly hear Nick VK2AOH but not well enough for a confirmed contact.
Thinking that 10 metres could give me a chance to work back into nearby Melbourne, I spotted my self on CW and was instantly rewarded with Ron VK3AFW/M a solid 569. Surprisingly nobody else was heard.
15 and 20 metres provided the same result as 80 metres so I finished up back on 40 metres but this time on phone. A cross mode and park to park contact was had with John VK5BJE/3 and VK3PF, VK2XXM, VK2JDS/M and VK5FANA were also in the log.
Better results than last year. Maybe being 1 hour later due to the end of daylight savings was a help. On that occasion, all on 40 metres I struggled to get 3 x CW and 3 x SSB plus 1 x 2 metre FM contact off the hand held.

The walk down was only about 5 minutes quicker. Take care as the fire trail is clay based and is slippery in places when wet.
Coffee and a bite to eat back at the car then off to Yarck.


Looking down on the competition area from the top of Latimer’s Track

TLCCV is Toyota Landcruiser Club of Victoria.
Whilst running the communications, I was able to do some chasing as I had the KX3 set up. Many asked why we were using morse code to communicate with the competition area?
Had some good contacts, working Warren VK3BYD on CW from all of his summits. Stuffed up 1 CW contact with Ian VK5CZ/P when I was trying to send CW and work the UHF radio at the same time. Called Ian Gerard. On the Sunday I was lucky enough to work Warren ZL2AJ on ZL1/BP-159 thanks to a quiet environment.

Cheers from Tony VK3CAT

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High Country Happenings


A wet day at Lovicks Hut

Nan and I were involved in running a TLCCV trip over the weekend of the 19th and 20th of March. Our initial role was as “Advance Party” on the Friday (18th) – setting up camp and a fire wood supply. The trip participants led by Michael Martin would arrive from Mansfield on the Saturday afternoon. This gave us some time out and you guessed it? A chance to revisit some of my favourite SOTA summits.
Like life in general, things do not always go according to plan!

Right on our 7:00 AM departure, the long awaited weather change hit, and with a vengeance. Strong winds followed by heavy rain. Nan & I headed out through the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, deciding to fuel up in Lilydale as the fuel station was on the correct side of  the road for us. This would lead us taking the Melba Hwy off the Maroondah Hwy; a departure to the norm as we usually by-pass Lilydale and head direct for Yarra Glen.

Well, whilst fueling up, a parade of SES and police vehicles with bells and lights roared past us and, as we were soon to discover, closed off the Melba Hwy due to fallen trees.
OK, looks like we go through Healesville where, we stopped for breakfast at one of the many Cafes before continuing up the Maroondah Hwy to Alexandra via the Black Spur.
It looked like this road had also recently been closed as there was a number of recently cleared trees along the road plus recent debris still on the road. Anyway, we made it through to Alexandra and then onto the Melba Hwy and Mansfield without incident.

The on and off drizzle continued as we headed south on The Howqua Track through Sheepyard Flat then onto Brock’s rd and Bluff Link rd onto the Bluff track and into Lovicks Hut. Glad I had aired down the tyres as the going was slippery at times on both clay and rock surfaces. Got the tent up without it or us getting too wet. Had a late lunch in the relative dryness of Lovicks Hut. The rain varied from drizzle to nothing and then down pour for the rest of the afternoon. The planned activation of Mt. King Billy was abandoned leaving a faint chance of activating the closer and easier Mt. Lovick instead.
This did not eventuate as the rain held up until early evening.
I did manage to cut some fire wood and, when the rain finally stopped, we were able to get a camp fire going. Time for a scotch then cook dinner on the BBQ.
Early to bed (8:05 PM) heavy rain and wind all night. Coleman Instant Tent nice and dry inside.


Mt. King Billy looking south

7:30 am, finally exited the tent. Cold outside, 2 degrees C. Fog and cloud but the rain seemed to have cleared. Breakfast and coffee then a drive out to King Billy.
Wow, this section of track is getting rougher each year. Lovicks Hut is at about 1450 metres and located in a relatively protected saddle. The track to King Billy climbs a series of rocky steps to 1650 metres from where the AAWT joins in. From this point, it is a relatively easy walk with some rock hopping to the summit cairn at 1716 metres. A few metres west of the cairn are some stunted trees that are suitable to attach a squid pole to. Nan headed back to the car whilst I was still setting up. WX was cold, windy with fog & drizzle at times but not enough to pull out the new Bothy Bag.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-016, King Billy No 1 – 1716m, 10 points

Activation date 18/03/16.
Phone coverage off Mt. Buller is very good.
Walk time from King Billy Saddle where the AAWT heads off to Mt. Magdala is an easy 15 minute walk albeit the rocks can be slippery if wet.
Ascent is from 1635 to 1716 metres over 700 metres.
Activation time 37 minutes. WX Cloudy, some fine drizzle and medium wind gusts.
Fact sheet, of the 13 activations of this summit, 8 have been by me, making it my number 1 summit. Yet to chase it!

I had alerted to start on 80 metres CW then move up to 40 metres, the propagation had not been great  previously for NVIS on 40m.
First call had me working Peter VK3PF with good signals and then nothing else.  Moving to 40 metres CW produced another 4 contacts into VK2, 5 & 7. SSB on 40m produced S2S contacts with Al and Andrew (VK1RX/2 & 1AD/2) both on VK2/SM-027 followed by contacts to VK5 and VK1. Note the absence of VK3 stations!
Activation finished up 15 minutes prior to UTC, back to the car and then a hot coffee with Nan back at Lovicks as well as getting a camp fire established.


Sunday, On the road just west of Mt Lovick with Mt. Buller in the back ground.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-020, Mt Lovick – 1684m, 10 points

Activation date 19/03/16.
Phone coverage off Mt. Buller is very good.
There is room to park one 4WD at the base of the sign posted walking track. The walk time is only 5 minutes; 20 metre ascent and maybe 100 metres to walk. Must do some precise measuring next time as the road is also possibly just inside the activation zone (but not a suitable operating location).
8 activations of this summit, 4 by me but I have chased this one!
WX slightly better than Mt. King Billy. Wind stronger!
Activation time 28 minutes

With the camp fire blazing at Lovicks Hut and the rest of the TLCCV group scheduled to arrive around 3:00 pm, I had a narrow operating window for Mt Lovick. The track from the hut to mountain is easy 4WD but requiring low range and reasonable ground clearance (like all of the tracks in this area!)

I set up at the cairn which is right at the top of the access track, just a little off to your right. Plenty of room to set up an antenna. The actual summit is quite broad so offers lots of operating locations; depending on the WX and, if clear, the best views which are off the escarpment to the south.

Worked VK7CW, VK2IO/P (s2s), VK3ARH & VK3BYD/P (S2S) ON 40m CW and Peter VK3PF on 80m CW. Unfortunately a VK2 station missed out as their signal overloaded my speaker which was cranked up to hear any weak stations.
Quick pack up and back to the hut where the others had just arrived. With plenty of hands, we then gathered up the fire wood I had cut up earlier then I took them for a short drive back towards King Billy (Helicopter Spur) where there are good views across to Buller, Stirling, Cobbler and Speculation. Then back to our camp site, warm fire, hot coffee then the usual stuff that goes with camping.

Mt Cobbler from near Mt Lovick

Sunday morning: Brisk start but everyone was ready to depart by 9:00 am.
Back up the track past Mt. Lovick to a location not far past on the main road that provides terrific views to the north and south. Nice to see all those Sota Peaks – Lovick, King Billy, Mt Clear, High Cone, Knobs, Buller, Stirling, Cobbler etc. Following this a brief look at the Bluff hut.

Tony at the Bluff Hut

Tony at the Bluff Hut

From the Bluff hut it was down the 16 mile Jeep track to Pikes flat on the Howqua river for morning tea. (Avoid this track if wet as it is steep, some ruts and clay based.) Continuing on, further stops were had at Bindaree Hut and Falls before heading up Bindaree Rd to the circuit Rd and then Monument track to the Monument and Clear Hills Track to Mt. Stirling. (Steep, rocky and a good challenging track with great views once on the top) Lunch at Mt. Stirling.


Morning Tea at Pikes Flat

Summit Information for VK3/VE-011, Mt Stirling – 1749m, 10 points

Activation date 20/03/16
Phone coverage off Mt. Buller is excellent.
Activation time 13 minutes
5 minute stroll up the track from the road where there is ample parking spaces. The road would be very close to being inside the AZ?

Cat on Stirling

Calling CQ SOTA on 146.500

My second activation of this summit.
I made us a quick lunch, then, as the temptation was too great, I took the VX7 up to the summit and tried to activate the summit on 2 metres, having already put out a spot.
Unfortunately this came to nought so, as some of the others is the group had climbed the adjoining summit past the cars and I had not nominated a departure time, I quickly grabbed the HF gear and set up part way up the hill.

Spotted for 7.032 CW but the bands seemed quite dead. Found VK2IO/P on SSB for a S2S on phone and CW. Another SSB contact with VK5HSX then CW withVK7CW and a surprise S2S with VK3AFW on Mt. Dandenong VK3/VC-025 (S519, R539)
Not too bad for an opportunist activation with poor propagation!

Gathered the troops and headed back down to the Circuit Rd near Howqua Gap then on to Mirimbah where our TLCCV trip concluded.
Home time!

Travel notes:
The route taken by the TLCCV contingent was along Brocks Rd to the 8 Mile Gap and then down to the Upper Jamieson Hut area to Carin Creek Track up to Lovicks Hut.
This route is 2WD in good weather up to Cairn Creek track. From here on it is 4WD and subject to seasonal road closures both on Carin Creek Tk and Brocks Rd.
There were a number of trees requiring a chainsaw to clear them on Brocks Rd near the Low Saddle Rd and also on Cairn Creek Rd.
Brocks Rd from Low Saddle Rd becomes more and more a 4WD track.
Bluff Link Rd is 2WD to the Bluff track. From here, both the Bluff Track and Bluff Link Rd are seasonally closed and 4WD only.
The Bluff track past the Bluff Hut to Lovicks Hut gets progressively rougher without being too difficult. From Lovicks Hut to King Billy saddle there are significant rocky steps to climb. There are a number of great viewing points all along this track.
16 mile Jeep Track is steep, clay based 4WD only and seasonally closed.
Nice camping and pit toilet at Pikes Flat. The 16 mile track from Pikes Flat to Bindaree Hut is easy 4WD. Only the Howqua river crossing may cause access problems for a 2WD vehicle.
Bindaree Rd, Circuit Rd are 2WD but can be slippery if wet. Trees can be down at any time. Seasonally Closed.
Note access via the Circuit rd to this area (through the Mt Buller / Stirling Alpine Resort area is closed off on midday Friday prior to the Queens Birthday weekend.
Monument Track and Clear Hills Track to Mt. Stirling are full on 4WD requiring low range and good suspension and tyres. Expect rock steps, clay, steep inclines, tight bends and great views.
Monument Track and Clear Hills Track to Mt Stirling are seasonally closed. The Clear Hills Track between the monument to Mt. Stirling and down to the Circuit Rd at the Howqua gap are closed from the 1st of May to the 30th of November each year.
DSE Information:

The High Country adventure continues over Easter

The Plan:
1. Activation of Mt. Thorn (VK3/VE-042), a previously un-activated summit located between Mt. Buller and Mt. Howitt.

2. Look at possible access to the Pimple (VK3/VE-057).

3. Check out the view from Mt. Speculation (VK3/VE-022)

4. Look at the old Wonnangatta Rd. Get a glimpse of the Razor & Viking

5. Investigate the start of the Buffalo Divide Track (aka Abbeyard – Cobbler Lake Rd). VK3/VE-103

6. Activate Mt. Buller on the way home.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-042, Mt Thorn – 1468m, 8 points


Mt. Thorn Cairn looking to the East

Activation date 26/03/2016.
In summary. The trek is close to 4.1 kilometres.
Total Ascent of 360 metres and a descent of 75 metres.
The climb took 2.25 hours with a further 10 minutes to set up and take some photos.
Descent 1:40
Excellent phone coverage.
Activation time 1:20

I had been aware of Mt. Thorn (and the Pimple) for years. In Easter of 1988, Nan and I thought we would visit the Cross Cut Saw section of the AAWT. To do this, we took our old Series 2A SWB Landrover into the Upper Howqua River and drove up a Logging road Called Queens Spur road. The travel was not difficult with only 1 large fallen tree to negotiate. We were able to drive over this 3/4 metre log by making a ramp on either side of it. We were driving right under the “teeth of the saw” and passed the crest of Stanley’s Name Spur and continued towards the Queens Spur. We had hoped that the King River here would have some water in it but it was as dry as…., thus we about faced and set up at a previously used camp site along the Howqua at Pikes Flat.

Landrover 16 Mile Jeep Track

My old landrover a little stuck coming up the 16 Mile Jeep Track 1988

The following day (Saturday), we headed back up to Queens Spur and climbed (bush bashed) up Mt. Buggery and then south along the saw towards Mt.Howitt. With time pressing on, we did not quite make it to Mt. Howitt so we turned back and headed to Pikes Flat.
Our intention was to try out a roast beef in our new camp oven. We learn’t a valuable lesson here. You can’t rush a camp oven. The beef was incinerated so dinner consisted of bananas and Easter eggs!
Research into the area was done using the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC) Howqua & Jamieson River Map (current version is 2000) and John Siseman / Algona Press publications of The Alpine Track and Wonnangatta Moroka National Park. (Disregard the heights specified in this book as they are way out!)

Returning to the present – 2016
Easter and 28 years later, a lot has changed but some things remain the same. I still love this area of Victoria. The Hills and rivers remain, many of the tracks do not. The body is probably just as fit if not fitter than then but more affected by aches and pains. The Old Landy is well gone having been replaced 3 times by successive Toyota Landcruisers (Beyond my budget in 1988!). Left home at 5:30 AM. Cats and Nan still in bed. Arrived at Mansfield at 8:15 AM, a quick bite and cup of coffee then out by 8:30 AM. WX is mild and the sky clear. Mt Buller is ominously beckoning in the distance!

Access: Head to Mansfield, 196 km from home and 2.75 hours in light traffic. Follow the Mt. Buller Rd to Mirimbah (20 minutes / 35 km) which is also the entry point to the Mt. Buller and Mt. Stirling resort. Fees payable during the snow season. Immediately past the resort entry point, take the Mt. Stirling Rd on the left. There is a park here that has public toilets. I used this location to air down from highway pressures to something more akin to what is needed for dirt roads and tracks. In this case the BFG 285/75/16 mud terrain tyres were set to 28 pounds.
Follow The Mt. Stirling Rd to Telephone Box Junction – 15 minutes / 8 km (TBJ) and then follow the southern circuit rd to Howqua Gap – 10 minutes / 7 kms and beyond to Bindaree Rd 20 minutes / 12 kms.
A further 1km past Bindaree Rd on the right is the Mt. Thorn Rd. No sign post but once had a rough sign saying Mt. Howitt. Not 100 metres in off the Circuit Rd is a small clearing that can be used for parking or even a rough camp. “No water”.
Garmin Maps and VMTC indicate some sort of walking track along Stanley’s Name Spur. You will be both disappointed and surprised!


The Chute Stanley’s Name Spur


Old logging track or Mt Thorn Rd?


Cross Cut Saw & Mt. Howitt from Mt. Thorn


The Activation:

Departing the car at just after 10:00 am, I headed down the Mt. Thorn Rd, noting that it would not be difficult to drive down but there being close in side bushes and some rocks and ruts which would require 4WD and some ground clearance.
I walked down to an obvious saddle on the spur for 560 metres and  where the road continued downwards on the west side of Stanley’s Name Spur. There were signs of foot traffic heading off the road to my left through some tight re-growth so, with fresh memories of North Hell’s Gate, I headed in.
The going was pretty easy with the re-growth only consisting of a narrow patch close into the road. There were faint signs of a path from time to time heading up the very steep spur (more like the side of a hill!) for 480 metres and 135 meter ascent where the first knoll was breached through an obvious chute.
From here, the walking was easy going, picking up a foot track at times, through some light to moderate scrub, keeping to the crest of the spur but for a number of deviations around fallen trees. On approaching what I hoped would be a final steep push, I began to notice the foot track I was on had definitely been a vehicle track at some time past and there could also have been some logging activity. A little further on I came across an old logging rd that looked in reasonable condition. I suspect that this is the Mt. Thorn Rd (shown on VMTC as being overgrown). This logging rd appeared to have once been graded to just past this point before becomming a steep but clear 4WD track up the spur to the next crest (130 metre ascent in 600 metres)
From this point on, any signs of the fire track vanished and progressed through light scrub and a semi defined foot track to the summit cairn a further 1.3 km away and 70 metres further ascent. The summit has light to medium cover with limited views – better if one ventures off to the sides.

The activation started on 40 metres CW. with 8 contacts in good time into VK1,2,3,5 & 7. I also had 22 x 40 metre SSB contacts into VK1,2,3,5 & 7 including S2S with Russ VK2BJP/3 ON VK3/VE-023 (near The Twins),  Marc VK3OHM/P on VK3/VN-012 and VK2WU on VK3/VE-019.
DX contacts to Japan on 15 metres CW JS1IFK and S2S JP3DGY/3 on 10 metres CW.
This last contact took a number of repeats and was completed at 0238 hrs UTC (1:38 PM). I was back at the car at 3:25 PM. This makes 1 hour and 40 minutes for the descent which included a walt further to the east and photo opportunities.
My return route was the same as my ascent. That the Mt. Thorn rd. may lead to the point I found on the spur needs to be determined at another time. It may be suitable for a well equipped 4WD vehicle to my intercept point but not any further as it petres out before reaching the top. Maybe a trail bike perhaps?
A note on the descent from the first knoll (first one climbed with the chute) the easier going tended to push me to north east of my ascent path on another spur which ends in a gully and down hill from the desired location of the Mt. Thorn Rd access point. I ended up coming out on the rd through the re-growth within metres of my assigned mark.

I had spent longer on the summit than planned due to the chase of JP3DGT/3 so I was keen to push on towards Mt. Speculation; but first was objective 2!

Summit Information for VK3/VE-057, The Pimple – 1391m, 8 points

Not yet activated.
From the Circuit Rd & Mt. Thorn Rd Junction, continue NNE to Speculation Rd. (Straight ahead if heading to Craig’s Hut, otherwise, turn right at Speculation rd 2.5 km from the Mt. Thorn Rd. Close to another 2 km west along Speculation Rd is a sharp LH bend with a track heading off on the right. This track is what remains of the Upper King Rd and ends in a small clearing some 600 metres south of Speculation Rd where there is a derelict bridge. There are signs of foot traffic fording the creek to the right of this bridge but I did not pursue it any further. Both Garmin & VMTC maps indicate the Upper King Rd continuing south west on the west side of the King river for a further 1.5 to 2.0 kms before reaching the left and right branches of the King River. The maps indicate roads once followed the right branch in towards Stanley’s Name Spur and the left branch to near King Spur & Mt. Koonika.
Ref Wonnangatta Moroka N.P 1985  #15. Mt Speculation pages 93-98. Here the walk has descended the AAWT from Mt. Buggery and climbed Queens Spur to the Pimple.

“Descend the spur heading north, then north west.
3.5km: Junction of the left and right branches of the King River. Ford the Right branch(on your left) to the huts and road on the far side.”
It is doubtful that the huts and certainly the road still exist.
Further research told of a walking group mostly walking 3 km in the river before reaching the circuit rd. Relevant extract of the trip report by bernieq (30/01/2014) www.bushwalk.com is set out below.

“(After a hasty lunch at the base of the climb to the Pimple, beginning now to fall behind schedule, we set off for the summit, the final 100m being very steep indeed. At the top (heavily treed and limited views) we decided to take the main spur down to the confluence of L and R branches of the King River – the plan to drop off the right-hand side seemed a little too steep and slow-going.
The change in plan was justified and our pace picked up, making the River in good time. However, no suitable campsites meant the day was not over – another 3km beside (actually, mostly in) the river. Notoriously slow travel, the King River was pleasantly cool and the water very welcome, but we began to think we’d not make the cars before dark. We pushed up onto the more open slopes and for a while the going was better but thickening vegetation and blackberries slowed us again to less that a km per hour.)”


Upper King River Rd

The ascent from the river crossing is 490 metres in the 3.5 km.
Easier access may be the long back route from the Upper Howqua camping area following the Mt. Howitt Feeder track to the old Queens Spur Logging Rd then following this to Queens Spur where access to the east to Mt. Buggery or west to The Pimple could be had. I reckon this would either be a big day trip or an overnight one. More work required.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-022, Mt Speculation – 1666m, 10 points

Activation date 26/03/2016
1.2 km & 40 minutes from the carpark to the summit.
Ascent is 166 metres.
Excellent phone coverage.

Speculation (Mt. Spec) was reached by continuing along Speculation Rd to where it meets  up with the king Basin Rd. It is good 2WD up to this point.
I had departed from the Mt. Thorn parking area by about 3:35 PM.
At 4:10 PM I was at the Speculation Rd and Little Cobbler  Track junction (13km) and at 4:27 PM I was at the Speculation and Cobbler Lake Track junction (3km). This short 3km section is quite rough and rocky. It used to be known as “The Stair Case” being solid rock steps requiring adept driving and wheel placement to walk your vehicle up the steps without damage. Close to 10 years ago, some bright government appointed spark thought it best to rip out the rocks. The result now is a mess of loose rocks and I believe to be a bigger obstacle to the old stairs.
Anyway, continue south east (great views of Mt. Despair and the Razor) along Speculation Rd until reaching a closed gate and car park to the left. The time was now 5:00 PM and I estimate the distance from the Cobbler Lake Rd to be 13 km.

20160326_171520I parked in the car park and set up my swag on the edge of the road (would not be getting any vehicles going past as the road is VERY closed). There is also a protected campsite just down the hill and to the north of the carpark complete with fire place but it was easier for me to be next to the car. Water is available from the creek (Camp Creek) crossed on a tight bend just before reaching the carpark. Opposite the carpark (south west) is a signed walking track heading to the AAWT and Mt Speculation. The sign said 1.2 kilometres and 20 minutes for the 166 metre ascent but it took me close to twice that. I did have to stop and admire the stunning views plus catch my breath more than a few times – plus chat to other walkers who were wondering why I was taking a fishing rod to the top of a mountain!


I set up right at the top and just to the side of a rock outcrop. I strapped the squid pole to a snow gum and ran out the wires of the doublet in what turned out to be an unintentional NE/SW orientation. A spot was put out and Steve VK7CW was the first chaser in the log on 40m CW at 0707 hrs UTC (6:07 PM local time). 15 x 40 meter CW contacts were had to VK1, 2, 3 & 4. I worked my first SOTA 40m DX with a contact to WW7D also on 40m CW 339 both ways. I also had 4 x 40 meter SSB contacts to VK1,3& 5 including S2S with Marc VK3OHM now on VK3/VC-002 Mt. Donna Buang. Moving to 20 metres, I called out QRL on 14.062 and noted a tune up signal as I was transmitting (full break keying). I put out a spot and called CQ and was promptly called by Kurt HB9AFI/P on Sota Summit HB/BE-123. Reports were 539, 559 with Kurt running a KX2.
Bedlam hit before we had even finished our contact with EU stations calling over Kurt and me and each other. I did not have the time or inclination to deal with this so was pleased to hear John VK6NU 539 / 519 at 0754 UTC
I packed up in the failing light and made it back to my camp for a cold beer and a pre-prepared Indian curry dinner. I slept well!

Easter Sunday

No sign of the Easter Bunny this morning. Actually, not much sign of anything as the mountain side was buried in fog.


Wonnangatta rd

I dragged my self out of the  Swag at 7:30 AM. Coffee, breakfast and a general tidy up from the previous days activities. Rolled up the sleeping bag but left the swag in place with the hope of some sunshine later to dry it out a bit (to whit it did!). Also checked the maps, GPS and Spot tracker. There was extremely poor phone coverage at the camp site. I tried to get an alert out to no avail. A text message to Peter VK3PF also failed to send.
This morning I would head to Mt. Despair. I had two choices:
1: Climb back up to the saddle below Mt. Spec then follow the AAWT down a spur that becomes very steep to the Wonnangatta Rd. (Shorter and with views).
2. Follow the meandering Wonnangatta Rd to where it intersects the AAWT and proceed to Catherine Saddle.
I chose the second option. Less climbing, hopefully less fog and, due to that fog, there would be bugger all views from the spur anyway!

The Wonnangatta Rd from Camp Creek winds progressively down from 1500 metres to the Catherine Saddle at 1235 metres over a distance of 4 kilometres. I had departed Camp Creek at 8:50 AM and had reached Catherine Saddle by 10:10 AM. A short break was had at Catherine Saddle, talking to some walkers returning from walking the Viking Loop. I also took the opportunity to strip off some layers; being my new rain jacket and a vest.
From here the AAWT climbs steadily, but with a short respite in a small saddle, to 1464 metres over a distance of 1.8 kilometres. I reached a small Cairn at the summit by 11:10 AM, thus 1 hour from saddle to summit.
I set up the squid pole to a tree on the side of the track close to the cairn and began the activation.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-043, Mt Despair – 1464m, 8 points

Activation date 27/03/2016
Phone coverage very unreliable.
Camp Creek to Summit 5.8 kilometres. 2:20.
Descent 265 metres over 4.0 km, ascent 229 metres over 1.8 km
AAWT easy to follow.


Mt Despair

I started off on 7.032 CW. Without alert or spotting facilities, I was not surprised to receive a wall of silence on 7.032 CW. A quick look on the 40m phone section spied Peter VK3ZPF operating portable from the French Island Marine Park VKFF 0950. Peter kindly put out a CW spot for me and I was in business.
8 x 40m CW contacts ensued plus 1 s cross mode (ssb/cw) and a further 3 contacts on 40m ssb including an S2S with Tony VK1VIC/P on VK3/AC-035.
Matt VK1MA was able to spot me on 20m CW and I did hear John VK6NU 319 but a 2 way contact failed.
Being unable to spot nor see if there was anyone else about, I left the gear set up and went for a walk north and east of the summit to grab a closer up view of The Razor.
Back at the station, tried 15m CW but nothing further eventuated so I packed up.

I returned via the same route. Time 2:07 for the 5.8 kilometres in reverse but this time with the sun out – I was searching for what ever shade was available.
Back at Camp Creek. a quick pack up of my swag then back along Speculation Rd to Cobbler Lake Rd. then Abbeyard Rd to my next summit.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-103, VK3/VE-103 – 1161m, 6 points

Activation date 27/03/2016
Poor phone coverage but did manage to get a spot out.
Operating position right on the summit in a clearing off the main track.
Squid pole set up on a ground stake in the clearing.

A drive up summit. Steep and 4WD required. Some loose shale plus a sheer rock surface on one tight up hill corner that could cause traction problems if wet and slippery. Limited locations to turn around.


Abbeyard Track

Time from Camp Creek was just over the hour.
Monitoring 7.090 SSB on the way up, I heard Glenn VK3YY begin an activation of VK3?VT-034 so I grabbed Glenn and set up an S2S once I was operational. I worked 4 stations in total on SSB and had a pile up on 40m CW with 14 stations worked in 18 minutes.
With time marching on and the spotting difficulties, I did not try any other bands (maybe I should have tried 20m as some unable to hear me on 40m could have been monitoring 14.062?)
Anyway, back down the track and onto Little Cobbler Track, Speculation Rd and the Circuit Rd where I pulled in and camped at the Mt. Thorn car park 1:15 later at 6:00 PM. No reliable phone coverage on the way; unable to place any further alerts.

Summit Information for VK3/VE-008, Mt Buller – 1805m, 10 points

Activation Date 27-28/03/2016
Excellent phone coverage.
Car to summit 20 minutes, 500 metres 120 metre ascent

After a comfortable night in the swag followed by breakfast, I hit the road by 8:30 AM. I noted to my self that I had neither seen nor heard anybody since passing a camp on the King River the previous afternoon. I was surprised at this as, being Easter, it is one of the busiest times around here. Take note that mid week or normal weekends within the season you could be very much on your own! Note: Geelong Grammar School Timber Top Campus are active Wednesdays and Thursdays to avoid the crowds.
By 8:53 I was at the Howqua Gap / Corn Hill Rd junction (13 km). Corn Hill Rd is a relatively easy 7.3 km 4WD track across to Mt. Buller. It is rocky in places.
I was at the Mt. Buller summit car park by 9:20 AM (23 km from Mt. Thorn car park). Getting the gear together and confirming the details of my alert sent via Matt VK1MA, I set off to the summit which is a 120 metre ascent over nearly 500 metres taking around 20 minutes.

I was set up and running on 7.032 CW just prior to my 23:00 UTC alert time and promptly worked Peter VK3PF and a string of 12 further stations from VK2,3,4 & 5. This included a S2S with Gerard VK2IO/P on VK2/CT-012
40m ssb 22 further contacts that included S2S with Al & Andrew on VK2/ST-042, paul VK1ATP.2 on VK2/ST-006 and Andrew VK3BQ on VK3/VW-022
Only one 20m CW contact and that was with Simon VK3SIM in the Melbourne northern suburbs


Packed up just after UTC, down to the car where I aired up the tyres to highway pressures. Got my lunchtime sandwich out from the fridge plus other supplies and headed for home.
Easter traffic on the way home was horrible, adding over an hour to the trip and in some cases sitting stationary in a 100km zone. The overtaking lanes as such slowed down the traffic rather than making it flow better and the imposed 80kmph speed limit between Molesworth and Yea due to it allegedly being a high crash zone (there was a nasty fatal roll over a couple of years ago) was probably responsible for a number of nose to tail incidents.
Managed a few SOTA chases on the way home.

Thorn to Spec Graph

Mt Thorn Graph

Mt Despair Garmin Map

Mt Thorn Garmin Map

Mt Thorn Map

Despair Graph

Camp Creek to Mt. Despair Graph


Parting Pic. The morning after!

Additional travel notes.
Pretty much all access to the areas covered over Easter are closed from the Thursday after Queens Birthday to the week preceding Melbourne Cup weekend.
Cobbler Lake via “Bennies” on the Rose River plus the Abbeyard – Lake Cobbler track are not subject to seasonal closures but access may be affected by weather and road conditions.
As previously commented. The Circuit Road is closed from midday on the Friday immediately prior to the Queens Birthday weekend.

To Warren VK3BYD for advice over the phone and Blog
To Allen VK3ARH for his Blog on the same area.
To Peter VK3PF, VK3ZPF and Matt VK1MA for spotting and alerts.
To other activators for S2S and of course the chasers.

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Sota Gear

This page is related to equipment that I have used for my activating. Previous postings refer to the Elecraft KX3 and how it has performed thus far. The main antenna used has been an open wire fed …

Source: Sota Gear

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Mount St. Leonard and Mount Toolebewong

After chatting with Ken VK3KIM on Friday night at the MDRC club meeting and again at home on Saturday, a short notice joint activation was planned for Sunday.
The WX forecast was OK so late Saturday afternoon, everything was confirmed for a leisurely  departure from Kens house (a near neighbour) at 9:30 AM.

The traffic at this hour was a little heavier than anticipated so we were a little behind our ETA. Heavy fog / damp cloud out from Healesville had me thinking I could be deploying the new Bothy Bag! See Sota Gear for my equipment updates.

Summit Information for VK3/VC-006

Mt St Leonard – 1012m, 6 points

But no, on entering the activation zone, the sun broke through, or rather we ascended through the cloud base into a clear and sunny day. Not much of a view thaoug except for the tops of cloud.
As Ken was going to try VHF from his hand held first, I set up close to the summit hoping that the QRM would not be too bad (It ranged from tolerable to horrible)
Ken had some success on 2 metres FM into Western VK3 plus an S2S with Allen VK3ARH on VK3/VC-032 near Ballan.
My first contacts were 40m SSB  with Andrew and Al (VK1AD/2 & VK1RX/2) on VK2/ST-011 and Allen VK3ARH. This was followed by 5 CW contacts of which a very weak VK3BYD/2 was worked for another S2S on VK2/SW-043 Reports were peaked 419 so not great propagation.
Went to 15 metres looking for a JA activators and chasers. 3 solid contacts were had from VK4 plus local VK3 stations.
There was a DX station calling that sounded like having an N, S, 7 & P in their call but I just could not get enough of their signal out through the QRM. Tried 12 meters but nothing heard.

Post Script 16/03/16 – it seems that the callsign was probably NS7P – Phillip in Oregon. On a quite summit this would have been an easy contact. 
Quietest operating position at VC-006 (but still offering a VHF path to Melbourne) is at the most southerly point of the access road where there is a walking track to Donelly’ Weir. This point is about 10 metres vertical from the summit. The disadvantage here is that it can be very cold – as I found out on a previous early morning activation. No sunshine and numb fingers on the paddle!

Whilst Ken was using the KX3 on SSB, I went for a stroll to the look out with my VX7R. I worked Ron VK3AFW with patchy reports then was surprised with a VK4VDX (Roland) in Logan city. Not bad for 5 watts. Using a clone of diamond (SRH-940) top loaded tri band rubber duck antenna.
No luck with contacting Peter VK3PF on 6 or 2 metres FM. There was some inversion and I think we may have been in the duct and signals from those below were attenuated. This could go some way to explaining Ron’s low signal.

Plenty of distractions were had. Ranging from an explanation of what we were doing to discussions on back packs.


We packed up in good time then headed back to the car which was still in the cloud.

Healesville was in full sunshine and busy. Grabbed a roll for lunch at the bakery (not Beechworth) then  headed up the road to Toolebewong. My Garmin 2927 with standard base map was completely lost where as Garmin topo V5 was fine.

Summit Information for VK3/VC-033

Mt Toolebewong – 735m, 4 points

Ken & I set up in a clearing just before the Private Road sign and just above the Telecommunications site.
Band conditions were now much better on 40m  and a string of 11 CW contacts were had plus Andrew and Al again but this time on VK2/ST-016.
Ken took over on SSB as I organised some tea and coffee. We also worked Tony VK7LTD/P on VK7/WC-065 ON 40m SSB.
Time to head home.
The activation site was in some shade from the now full sun but there were plenty of mozzies about and blood was drawn. Tried 15 and 20 metres but nothing heard on these bands at all!

Home by 6:00 pm. BBQ dinner to cook.

Thanks Ken for the company.


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