12th December 2015
It had been a long time – far too long – since my lady and I had done a full day 4WDing in the high country and taking in a few SOTA Summits along the way. So, when an opportunity came for us to do that, we spent some time looking at maps and figuring out where we wanted to go. Naturally we considered places and Summits we’d visited before and we decided we’d like to try some new ones.
We had spent some time exploring the Buckland Valley and knew there was a network of 4WD trails to the east of there, and several SOTA Summits as well. That promised to be a good place to explore, so we set about planning a route. Initially we planned to go from Harrietville via the Ovens Creek Track and the Albion Track to Albion Point, VK3/VE-080, and activate that, followed by VK3/VE-030 and VK3/VE-070 and thence to the Buckland Valley road via the Paddy Hill Track.
All went well until we got about 500 metres along the Albion Track from its intersection with Gunns Track. A very large tree had fallen across the track, and even with a chainsaw we would have been there all day if we had tried to clear it. There was no way around it either, so a rethink was in order. After studying the map and talking about our options, we decided to give Albion Point a miss and head straight for VK3/VE-030.
So, we turned around and headed down Gunns Track, which took us almost directly to VK3/VE-030. The 1:25,000 topographic map does not show it, but there is a side trail signposted “Helipad” that goes to the Summit, so you can drive right to the top. The Summit has been cleared of trees and the views are spectacular in every direction. To the northeast, Mount Feathertop stands clearly above the surrounding peaks. To the east is Mount Hotham VK3/VE-006, with the Great Alpine Road clearly visible. To the south is The Twins VK3/VE-017 and next to it the unnamed Summit VK3/VE-023. To the southwest is Mt Murray VK3/VE-025 and Mt Selwyn VK3/VE-049. To the west is Mt Cobbler VK3/VE-027 and to the north is Mt Buffalo with The Horn VK3/VE-014 and The Hump VK3/VE-019 plainly visible.
There being a huge 4G signal from Mt Hotham, I decided to take the opportunity to delete my earlier alerts and replace them, giving the SOTA world some notice of my revised plans.
I decided to start on 28MHz as I knew there were a couple of activators out attempting to find some Sporadic E propagation, so I put up the vertical wire antenna and had a listen around. Although I could hear a couple of weak USA stations calling CQ on CW I did not manage to make any contacts. After ten minutes of fruitless CQ calls I decided to head to 7MHz and see what could be worked there. This entailed dismantling the vertical and replacing it with the link dipole, which took a few minutes.
I put up a spot and in a short time I worked 6 stations including a couple in VK4. Signals were relatively weak and affected by deep fading, which made it hard work but at least I’d qualified the Summit. I was considering my next move when I received an SMS asking me to try 80m. This meant adding the extensions to the 40m dipole, which we did. I did not really expect to make any contacts on that band at that time of the day, but eventually managed to work two stations at reasonable signal strength, though once again subject to deep fading. I considered working my way up the bands but, after working one station on 10MHz, the march flies got the better of us so we decided to pack up and move on.
Stations worked on 3.5MHz CW:
Stations worked on 7MHz CW:
VK5IS, VK2IO, VK4RF, VK7CW, VK2YW, VK4HA
Stations worked on 10MHz CW:
The trail from VK3/VE-030 to VK3/VE-070 was in reasonable condition and follows the ridge line, so we made good time along there. The Summit itself is tree covered but the trail goes right over it, so access was not a problem. This time I decided to forego the squid pole and hung the antenna from a convenient tree branch.
Having done the previous Summit exclusively on CW I decided to do this one on SSB. There was a sniff of a 3G signal so I put up a spot and started calling CQ. In a short time I made 16 contacts mainly with VK3 stations, with a couple of VK7s and VK5s in the mix. Signals were not strong and, as with the earlier activation, subject to deep fading. In my quiet Summit location I had little trouble with this, and could continue to copy stations even when they faded almost into the noise. It was obviously more of a problem for chasers in noisy urban locations to copy me, though, so my thanks to everyone who persevered.
I had not realised that VK3/VE-070 had never been activated before until Peter, VK3PF, pointed it out. So that was a new one for me, and if I get naming rights it’ll probably be Mount March Fly in honour of its most prolific inhabitant.
I briefly considered trying other bands but the aforementioned critters were onto us, and I wanted to leave plenty of time to get down from the high country before dark. I had no indication of the state of the Paddy Hill Track from there to the Buckland Valley, though I knew that if we encountered another tree such as the one we came across earlier, there would be no alternative but to retrace our tracks and come down to the Great Alpine Road.
Stations worked on 7MHz SSB:
VK5IS, VK3PF, VK3LED, VK3CAT, VK3FQSO, VI3ANZAC, VK2YW, VK3GRP/P, VK7CW, VK3YAR, VK3UH, VK3VTH/P, VK3GH, VK3JBL, VK7NWT, VK5WG
The Paddy Hill Track did not appear to have carried much traffic in recent times. It was also evidently quite some time since any maintenance had been done, and the trail was extremely rough in places. There were two very steep descents, both of which were badly washed out and covered in loose stones that made it hard to maintain control on the way down. I kept the 4WD in low range and picked my line vary carefully and we got down without incident, stopping on the summit of Paddy Hill for afternoon tea. It’s not a SOTA Summit so we didn’t feel the need to throw a wire up a tree!
The trail crosses the Buckland River on its way to join the Buckland Valley road, and hot, tired and dusty as we were, the sound of the water splashing under our wheels was very inviting. We found a great spot to stop at Camp Flat, where we once again forded the river and found a parking spot on the far side next to a wonderful swimming hole. Camp Flat would be a fantastic place to make camp and stay for a few days while activating some of the very many SOTA Summits in the surrounding hills. Now there’s an idea for a future expedition!