5th January 2014
With the holidays over for another year, the prospect of returning to work loomed as it always does late on a Sunday afternoon. But it was a nice day, a little windy perhaps, but the cumulus scudding around didn’t look like they were going to amount to anything. A good opportunity for a short-notice activation of a local Summit, then.
A quick perusal of the map showed that the nearest, easiest to access Summits close to home were Huon Hill and Mt Baranduda. Huon Hill is a ten-minute drive from home and only one point, so I decided to keep that one for later. It might come in useful for testing new gear, or perhaps for a drop-of-the-hat chasing expedition. So, Mt Baranduda it would be.
The access to Mt Baranduda is via Ewart Rd which runs off the main Wodonga – Beechworth Road, about 15 minutes drive from Wodonga town centre. Mt Baranduda is not so much a single peak; rather it is a 15km long range of hills with a high point that qualifies as a SOTA Summit. There are quite a few tracks up there that are frequented by the trail-bike fraternity, which can sometimes make it a very noisy place to be on weekends.
My lady and I drove slowly up Ewarts Rd, wondering why they’d bothered to slap a bit of tarmac on it some time back in the 1950s and then hadn’t touched it again since. It would be inaccurate to call those depressions “potholes”; “craters” would be a more accurate description. Good job we took the 4WD, we thought, as I tried with varying degrees of success to pick the least bone-shaking route.
As with many Summits of this kind, you can drive right into the Activation Zone for Mt Baranduda. We chose to park the 4WD at the closest point to the Summit itself and then walk into the forest to set up the station in a clearing away from the road. This turned out to be a wise decision as at least two groups of trail-bikers roared past while we were there, shattering the peace of the woodland and sending birds, small woodland creatures and SOTA operators diving for cover.
The trees in that forest are very tall and straight and it was something of a challenge to find one with a low branch to lob the halyard over. Eventually I found one that looked suitable. It was a bit thin, more of a twig than a branch, but I figured it would do. It wasn’t going to have to carry much weight, so what could go wrong?I was on the air within about ten minutes of arriving at the Summit and quickly made a Summit To Summit SSB contact on 7MHz with VK3MRG on VK3/VC-025. Next caller was John VK2YW but I’d just logged his callsign when my antenna fell down right on top of me. The twig had proved unequal to the weight of the antenna plus the drag caused by the rising wind. Bugger! Fortunately John could still hear me even with my antenna lying on the ground (and tangled around my ears!) so I could ask him to wait while I sorted it out. After a bit of blundering about in the bushes I found another suitable branch, this time not a dead twig but the real deal with leaves and looking good and healthy. I hauled the antenna back up and went back to complete a contact with John. Then a small pile-up got going and I made contacts with VK2DAG, VK2FGJW/p (S2S), VK3FPSR, VK3PF, VK3MCD/2, VK5PAS/p (S2S), VK3AFW, VK1MA, VK2ARZ, VK3BHR, VK3HRA, VK2IO and VK3OHM. When it seemed there were no more takers I did a quick QSY to 7.027 and put out a few CQ calls on CW but there were no responses to that.
At this point my lady pointed out that the wind was still rising and the tree we were sitting under was beginning to creak alarmingly. Remembering the collapse of the antenna support and wondering if it was any indication of the structural soundness of the trees thereabouts, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour. We packed up in five minutes flat and beat a hasty retreat.
Lessons Learned on this trip:
- Headphones are always a good idea when the environment is likely to be noisy. On this trip I struggled a bit with wind noise, and those pesky trail bikes of course.
- Pick your antenna support carefully. It pays to give the halyard a tug before rigging the antenna, just to make sure.
- It’s amazing how far 5W of RF will travel even when the antenna is lying on the ground in an untidy heap!
- Safety is everything. Remember to check the environment for hazards (like dodgy trees/branches) and don’t take unnecessary risks.