16th February 2014
After several weeks of extremely high temperatures with associated extreme fire danger conditions during which I was very reluctant to take to the bush for SOTA expeditions, a cool change finally arrived bringing with it a little light rain. Conditions were favourable for a SOTA trip, the only question being where to go and which summit to activate.For some months I’ve been meaning to check out Jarvis Creek Plateau, in the Jarvis Creek Regional Park. It’s close to home and if the map could be believed it should be relatively easy to access, with only a short stroll from the nearest road to the summit. A check with OziExplorer and the 1:25,000 scale topographic map of the area shows that the summit is accurately named: it is indeed a plateau, with the activation zone covering almost 1.9 square kilometres along the ridge line. The aptly named Plateau Road runs through the activation zone for quite some distance. Perfect! I posted an alert on SOTAWatch and then my lady and I headed out from Albury towards the Hume Weir, crossed the lake at Bellbridge and made our way along Murray River Road to Georges Creek Rd. From the turn-off it’s about 10km to Langheim’s Rd which is the access point to the Park. First problem: Langheim’s Rd is not signposted at all, so unless you know where it is you’ll just drive straight past it. That’s what we did. We knew we’d missed it somewhere along the way but we also knew we hadn’t seen any signs for it, so there wasn’t much point turning around as we’d probably miss it going the other way too. We knew we could get into the Park from the Tallangatta end, so we kept going, passing the old Tallangatta township until we reached Plateau Rd. We turned in there and followed Plateau Rd as it climbed up, watching the GPS counting down the distance to the summit.
We found ourselves a convenient spot to pull over and check the map and the GPS. Sure enough, we were in the activation zone. I got out and had a look around. There were some very black clouds that looked as though they might be heading our way, and there was a rumble or two of thunder in the distance. Hmm, I thought, imagining static crashes drowning 7MHz, or of sitting in my chair, mic in hand while a sudden downpour soaked me and the FT817. But we had a golf umbrella in the ute so we decided it was worth having a go.We strolled a short distance from the road, looking for a suitable tree to use as a support for the dipole. Remembering previous issues with rotten branches, I chose one with a solid-looking fork at about 7m above the ground and lobbed a line over it. We got the antenna up and then installed the FT817 in the side pocket of my portable “shack”. I switched on and dialled up 7.090 half expecting to hear nothing but static crashes. Sure enough there were a good few of them about, but not so that the band would be unusable. We were in business!
I checked SOTA Goat but it complained that it didn’t have a signal and so couldn’t post a spot for me. Never mind, I thought, it’s Sunday afternoon, there’s bound to be plenty of chasers about. And so it transpired: I put out a quick CQ call and VK3BYD came straight back. We chatted for a minute or two and then in a small pile-up I worked VK1MA, VK3DQ, VK3CAT, VK3PF, VK3FQSO, VK2YW, VK1MDC, VK2NEO, VK3AFW, VK1NAM, VK5PAS, VK2DAG, VK3ANL, VK2JDS and VK2JI. All were at reasonably strong signal strengths and the electrical noise from the nearby thunderstorms didn’t give me any trouble. When it all went quiet I took the chance to grab a quick cup of tea, leaving the rig monitoring in case anyone else popped up.
I was considering going up to 14MHz to see what might be happening up there, but after finishing my tea I got out of the portable “shack” and had a look around. A particularly threatening black cloud was bearing down on us. We decided not to wait and see if it was going to dump on us. I switched off the FT817 and we got the antenna down and everything packed up in a leisurely ten minutes. We decided to follow Plateau Rd through so that we could find the turning off Georges Creek Rd that we’d missed on the way in. I set the GPS to track us so that there would be no doubt next time, assuming we’ll be doing this one again at some point in the future.
Lessons Learned on this trip
- Using the GPS to navigate to the summit might save time, especially if you set waypoints at the turn-off from the main road.
- Thunder rumbling in the distance doesn’t necessarily mean the HF bands will be unusably noisy, but carefully assess the risk of getting struck. If in doubt, don’t hang about!
- SOTA is addictive. Two weeks between SOTA activations is way too long!