Unnamed Summit VK3/VE-024 and Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021

Australia Day, 26th January 2017

Australia Day has become something of a SOTA tradition for me, and I like to get out and activate a Summit or two using the AX prefix to mark our national day.  So for 2017 I decided to revisit some of the Alpine Summits that I have activated previously.  The Dargo High Plains area is a beautiful part of the Victorian high country and I hadn’t been up there for a while, so I decided that the unnamed Summit VK3/VE-024, which is just off the Dargo High Plains Road, and Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021 would fit the bill.  I added Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015 as a tentative additional Summit for this expedition, intending to activate that one if time permitted.

The day dawned bright and clear with a forecast high of 35 degrees in my home town of Albury, so a good day to be heading for the high country where temperatures will be at least 5 degrees cooler.  We drove down via Myrtleford and stopped in Bright for a coffee, where we discovered that this weekend is the Audax Classic bike race, which explained the large number of lycra-clad cyclists we’d passed.  The race hadn’t started, these were riders practicing for the event which starts on Saturday.  My tolerance for sharing the road with them was stretched to the limit on the winding road up from Harrietville to Mount St Bernard…  They wobbled all over the road, they rode two- or three-abreast, they behaved as though they owned the road and other traffic had no business getting in their way.  I know of no other sport that feels it has the right to use public roads as race tracks and to so arrogantly put other road users rights so far below its own.  Yes I’m ranting now but this sort of arrogance really irritates me.

By some miracle we reached the Dargo High Plains Road without killing any cyclists and to our great relief we turned off and left them to the Alpine Road, puffing, sweating and wobbling their way up the final 10 kilometres to Mt Hotham.  We found the Dargo High Plains Road in reasonable condition, though extremely dusty after the dry weather of the past few weeks.

Unnamed Summit VK3/VE-024

VK3/VE-024 is reached via a picnic area that is just off to the left of the Dargo High Plains Road.  We parked there and soon had the long wire antenna threaded through some snow gums at about 5 metres above ground.  I was on the air shortly after 10am local time, starting on 7MHz SSB since that was where the rig happened to be when I switched it on.

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AX2IB/3 on CW from VK3/VE-024

Conditions on the HF bands were poor to reasonable, with weak signals just about everywhere and no NVIS on 40 metres, as expected.  I moved around the bands a fair bit, chasing some other activators as I noticed their spots coming up on  SOTA Watch.  I qualified the Summit before the UTC midnight roll-over and again afterwards, concentrating mainly on CW for this activation.

Stations worked on 3.5MHz CW:

VK3ARH, VK3CAT, VK3PF,

Stations worked on 7MHz CW:

VK2AOH, AX7CW, AX2IO/P (S2S VK2/SY-001), AX2IO/P (S2S VK2/SY-001), AX7CW, VK2AOH,

Stations worked on 7MHz SSB:

VK3GGG/P (S2S VK3/VW-007), AX3ANL (S2S VK3/VE-137), VK3GGG/P (S2S VK3/VW-007),

Stations worked on 14MHz CW:

ZL1BYZ,

Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021

Mt Blue Rag is accessed from the Blue Rag Range trail, which is a 4WD trail that climbs up onto the ridge a little further down the Dargo High Plains Road.  The first obstacle is a very deep drainage channel at the side of Dargo High Plains Road, which must be crossed in order to get onto the 4WD trail.  A 4WD vehicle with high ground clearance and good entry/exit angles are vital for this manoeuvre.  Then, once on the Blue Rag Range trail, the going is very steep and rocky with very sharp “speed humps” that once again require high ground clearance.  Low range 4WD is advisable for the very steep sections.

Fortunately, Mt Blue Rag is just at the top of  the first steep section of the trail, so although the going is necessarily slow (if you value your vehicle!) it doesn’t take long to arrive.  The Summit itself is quite flat and covers a fair bit of ground, but there is a deeply rutted fire trail that runs away to the south of the main trail and following this brings you to a cleared area where there is plenty of space to set up antennas and a portable “shack”.

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AX2IB/3 on Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021

Once again we installed the long wire at about 5 metres above ground level, threading it through some  handy snow gums one of which also provided shade for the operating position.  We took a while to get set up and once everything was installed we were gasping for a cuppa, so had a quick brew before getting on the air at about 12.30 local time.

HF band conditions had noticeably deteriorated and I struggled to make contact with a few stations, most of whom were also struggling to qualify their Summits.  I’m not sure whether propagation was to blame or whether is was just that it was lunch time and everyone was busy throwing another prawn on the barby!  Anyway I worked a few stations, stopped and had some lunch and then went back and worked a couple more so eventually managed to qualify this activation.

Stations worked on 7MHz CW:

AX2IO/P (S2S VK2/SY-001), VK2AOH,

Stations worked on 7MHz SSB:

AX3HN/P (S2S VK3/VE-034), VK2KXN/P (S2S VK2/CT-012),

Stations worked on 14MHz CW:

ZL1BYZ,

Stations worked on 14MHz SSB:

AX3ANL/P (S2S VK3/VE-134),

After packing up, my lady and I had a discussion about whether or not to continue and activate VK3/VE-015, but in the end we decided that as propagation conditions weren’t too good and we were both feeling a bit hot, tired and fed up with the march flies we’d head back down the hill and grab an ice cream in Bright, which we duly did.  I had a double serving of chocolate and salted caramel, which in itself was an excellent reason for driving to Bright.  So if you’re in the area, the ice cream emporium is in the main street and it’s very well worth a visit.

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