22nd June 2014
Winter has arrived. It’s been cold, wet and windy for days and the forecast says that’s going to continue for a while. There’s no point in complaining! That’s what happens at this time of year. But even in the midst of all that typical winter gloom we do get the occasional beautiful sunny day and in a valiant attempt to stave off SOTA withdrawal symptoms I like to take full advantage of these opportunities to activate a Summit or two.
Having explored the area around Lockharts Gap and activated the available Summits along the Eskdale Spur Track, I knew that there were two more easily accessible 4-pointers on the opposite side of Lockharts Gap. These are the unnamed Summits VK3/VE-159 and VK3/VE-242. A glance at SOTA Watch showed that there were several other activators planning to take advantage of the fine weather and so there would be a good chance of Summit to Summit contacts during the day. The expedition was on!
The sun was shining in an almost cloudless sky when we left Albury, but as we got closer to Lake Hume we drove into the fog that often lingers in the river valleys at this time of year. It was quite dense in places and we made slow and careful progress, wary of the many “Stock Crossing” signs and the potential of encountering a herd of cows crossing the road. As we climbed up to Lockharts Gap the fog became patchy and the sun broke through, but as we reached the top and turned onto the State Forest trail the fog closed in again. It was quite an eerie experience driving slowly along the muddy trail with water dripping from the trees and visibility down to 50 metres or less.
The trail is smooth and looks like it has been graded recently, but in the wet it was very slippery and I engaged 4WD to help keep the Hilux on the straight and narrow. In dry conditions a 2WD vehicle would be able to reach both of these Summits but in the wet it’s probably not advisable to try it. You might be OK, but on the other hand…
We chose to activate VE159 first, for no particularly good reason. We were delighted to find that as we climbed up towards the Summit we came out of the fog, and the hill top itself was in bright sunshine. It’s a gentle stroll from the road to the Summit and we set up among the trees with a patch of sunlight to keep us warm. I was on the air a few minutes early and on 7MHz I worked VK2IO, VK2TWR, VK2HV, VK5BJE, VK3EK/P (S2S VK3/VG-127), VK3DET, VK2EIK, VK2LEE, VK5PAS, VK1MA, VK5LY, VK3MEG, VK3PF, VK3FQSO, VK2ODD, VK3CAT, VK2KEV, VK3BYD, VK5EE, VK1NAM/P (S2S VK1/AC-019), VK1RX/P 7MHz (S2S VK1/AC-027), VK3PI, VK3FPSR and VK3YE/P before the UTC roll-over. After the roll-over I kept going on 7MHz and worked VK1MA, VK2UH, VK5LY, VK3CAT, VK3FPSR, VK5PAS, VK5BJE, VK3PF, VK1MBE/2 (S2S VK2/ST-001), VK3EK/P (S2S VK3/VG-127), VK1RX/P (S2S VK1/AC-027) and VK2NNN.
While I was working through the pile-up a slight breeze came up and blew the mist up out of the Mitta Mitta valley and over the Summit. Immediately conditions changed from warm sunshine to cold, clammy fog. We decided not to hang about and try other bands, but quickly packed up and got back in the ute, which as we knew from previous expeditions has a very effective heater.
It’s about 6km from VE159 to the second Summit of the day, VK3/VE-242. Respecting the fog and the muddy conditions we took it slowly, watching as the GPS counted down the distance. Visibility in the fog was down to 30 metres in places but once again, as we climbed up to the closest point of approach to the Summit, we climbed out of the fog and back into bright sunshine. We parked the Hilux and strolled up to the Summit, where we found a fantastic view down over the fog-filled Mitta Mitta valley. My lady remarked that it’s not every day you find yourself above the clouds without an aeroplane, but that’s one of the joys of SOTA expeditioning I guess.
The VE242 Summit is well wooded but we had to cast around a bit to find a tree with a suitable limb that would serve as the antenna support. Eventually we found one and got the station on the air. The 7MHz band was busy with SOTA activators and a fair bit of other activity, and before jumping in amongst it I stopped for a cup of tea and another look at the view.
Tea consumed, I was all set for a good SOTA session. Over a 40 minute period I worked VK3MRG/P (S2S VK3/VN-001), VK5LY, VK3FQSO, VK3EK/P (S2S VK3/VG-127), VK3WAR, VK3BHR, VK2HV, VK3HRA, VK3PF, VK2IO, VK2XF/3, VK5BJE, VK2LEE, VK2YK, VK2GAZ, VK3FPSR, VK1DI/2 (S2S VK2/ST-010), VK5PAS, VK2DAG, VK2YW, VK3CAT, VK2TWR, VK3AMB, VK2KEV and VK3FOWL on 7MHz and in a brief foray on 14MHz to try for the VK6 chasers I managed a difficult QSO with VK5CZ/P (S2S VK5/NE-065). I did hear VK6MB briefly but was unable to make a contact with him.
Time was getting on and although we would have liked to stay and try some other bands, we had to get going. On the way back down we found that the fog had cleared a little and the trail was mostly in the clear, with just the occasional mist patch remaining. The Mitta Mitta valley remained filled to the brim though, and the view from the cleared area where the high voltage power lines cross the ridge was fantastic.
In all, two very successful activations were completed and we were very pleased with the expedition. The Hilux acquired another coating of thick, brown mud but then it is a 4WD and so this kind of decoration is only to be expected. Out of sheer laziness I decided not to wash it off, knowing that the rain forecast for the rest of the week would probably do the job for me.
Lessons Learned on this Trip
- Fog is almost guaranteed in the valleys at this time of year. Slow down and take your time when driving through it.
- It might be warm and sunny on the Summit but if the fog rolls in that will change really fast. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security.
- An easy 2WD trail can be a different beast altogether when it’s wet. Take care and don’t hesitate to use 4WD.
- When you’re in thick fog you can’t see landmarks. Use the GPS!