10th March 2018
Not having activated a Summit for close on 5 months, the regular VK/ZL/JA/EU S2S party was too good an opportunity to miss. With beautiful early autumn weather forecast for the alpine area I decided to head for the high country. Initially I intended to activate VK3/VE-024, a Summit I’ve done a couple of times before, but on further consideration I changed that to Blue Rag, VK3/VE-021 because the Summit area there is much nicer and easier to access, although it does require a 4WD vehicle.
My lady and I decided to stay up in the high country so that if we stayed late on the Summit we wouldn’t have a long drive home in the dark. We booked in to a hotel at Dinner Plain, which worked out very well. We checked in there and had a cup of tea before heading back through Mt Hotham village and onto Dargo High Plains Road to get to the Blue Rag Range Trail. On the way we noted that the Great Alpine Road was to be closed between 8am and 1pm the following morning for a cycling event. The other was that the picnic area at VE-024 was packed out with campers, so changing my initial plan had been a good idea.
The Blue Rag Range Trail requires a serious 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance. Access to it from the Dargo High Plains Road first means crossing a deep ditch, and then a very steep and rocky climb on a badly washed out trail. It’s only a couple of hundred metres up to the Blue Rag Summit access trail but it feels like a lot further! The Summit access trail itself is deeply rutted and requires high ground clearance and great care, but once through that there is a nice grassy area surrounded by trees which is obviously used fairly frequently as a camp site. This area is within the Activation Zone, and is a perfect spot to set up. There are even trees suitable for use as antenna supports, which is relatively uncommon on 10-point Summits in the Alpine region.
For this activation I decided to use the Barrett 940 with 20W out rather than the FT-817 with its 5W, as I felt the extra power might be needed. The antenna was my standard 26m doublet, with the feed point at 7m above ground and the ends up at about 4m. This loads up well on all bands from 80m up. It can be persuaded to work on 160m too but isn’t very efficient down there.
I got everything set up and ready to go well before the time I’d alerted for, so I thought I’d have a quick listen around the bands before settling down to make some contacts. Within a minute of switching on, I was tuning around 18MHz and heard JP3DGT/3 calling CQ SOTA on CW. He wasn’t a very strong signal but I figured it was worth a try, so I gave him a call. He heard me and, with a few repeats here and there, we completed a QSO for my first S2S of the day.
After that I went over to 7MHz to see who was about and worked a string of VKs including several S2S. At about 1800 I was on 10MHz CW where I worked HB9DQM/P for my first European S2S of the day. Again, signals were not strong but perfectly workable in the electrically quiet mountaintop environment.
While I’m on the air I generally keep an eye on SOTA Watch and I noted a spot for a ZL station on 5MHz. Of course I had to go and have a listen and sure enough I could hear him at about S3 on SSB. Now if only we had access to the 60m band here in Australia we could probably have made that an S2S QSO. Oh well, all in good time, no doubt.
At around sunset the bands started to fade out, so I decided to pack up and get off the Summit while I still had enough daylight to see the ruts on the access trail and get through without getting stuck in them. Daylight was fading fast by the time we got back onto the Dargo High Plains Road, but I had to stop on the way to snap a picture of the sunset behind The Twins, VK3/VE-017 with the unnamed VK3/VE-023 behind it. It was spectacular; one of the reasons we take to the mountains, quite apart from all the radio operations.
Stations worked on 7MHz CW:
VK2WP/P (S2S VK2/CT-006), VK4JAZ, VK2KZ, VK4TJ, VK3ELH, VK3BYD, VK3ARH/P (S2S VK3/VC-032),
Stations worked on 7MHz SSB:
VK1MIC (S2S VK1/AC-040), VK3PF/P (S2S VK3/VT-042),
Stations worked on 10MHz CW:
VK5CZ, HB9DQM/P (S2S HB/AR-004), DL4FO/P (S2S DM/HE-003), ZL1BYZ,
Stations worked on 14MHz CW:
EA2IF/P (S2S EA2/NV-070),
Stations worked on 14MHz SSB:
ZL2AJ (S2S ZL1/WK-195), ZL2ATH (S2S ZL1/WL-153),
Stations worked on 18MHz CW:
JP3DGT/3 (S2S JA/OS-012),
Post Script: The Great Alpine Road was indeed closed at 8am the following morning but we got up very early and made it back to Harrietville before the closure came into effect. Just as well as I had to get home to Albury, then pack a bag and keep on going up the Hume Highway to Wollongong for a work conference starting at 9am on Monday!