Four Snowy Mt summits in summer 2015

VK2/SM-053

As I had some time off work in January I planned a SOTA expedition to activate some summits in the Snowy Mountains region, where there are plenty of high value summits to choose from.  I planned to activate several summits on the first day and one major trip on the next day.

The first summit activated was the unnamed VK2/SM-053 which is east of the Thredbo road.  Others have described it and its location, it is easy enough to find and can be driven up, though the top section of the road has been damaged by roadworks and recent heavy rain.   I parked my car on the road near the top and walked to a suitable point where I could see a good location for my radio and a nearby stump that the mast could be attached to.  The multiband dipole was soon set up and I was able to qualify the summit within a few minutes of getting on air, on both SSB and CW on 40m.   Nothing was heard or worked on 20m and that band sounded quite dead.  20 contacts made on 40m.

VK2/SM-014 The Cascades

Driving towards Thredbo afterwards, a thunderstorm passed overhead with heavy rain and I wondered how the weather would be when I reached the next parking spot.  The storm passed and soon even the rain stopped, so by the time I reached the parking area at Dead Horse Gap, about 10km past Thredbo, the sky was clear of rain clouds and I was able to get my bike out of the car and get moving towards the Cascades.  This summit is to the south of the Thredbo river, but the path along the north side of the river takes you the first 2km of the trip.  Then you cross the river either on the steel bridge or via a road crossing intended for forest maintenance vehicles.  I decided against riding through the water, it was about 150 to 200mm deep at that point but flowing quite quickly.   After crossing the river, you follow the track up towards the hill.  I left my bike near the river and walked the next 2km without it.  It would have made the return trip much faster if I had pushed the bike up to a higher point.

Having reached the highest point on the fire trail/maintenance track at about 2km past the river crossing, it was easy to walk upwards towards the summit through the bushland.  Taking care to look out for unfriendly wildlife, I passed the first set of (huge) rocks and my GPS was already indicating that I had entered the top 20m contour so I had to be in the activation zone then.  I found a suitable rock to set up my gear on, only later noticing that there was a huge dead eucalyptus tree nearby.  Fortunately nothing unpleasant happened but I should have chosen a safer place to sit.  Those old trees are called “widow-makers” for good reason.

After making the first dozen contacts on 40m ssb, I moved to CW and made more contacts, as part of my aim to qualify each summit I activate on ssb and CW.  Signals incoming were ok but the reports I was receiving were well down on the usual level.  After moving back to the ssb mode I made more contacts and while talking with Matt VK1MA I told him my antenna seemed to have a fault, and while saying that my gaze went up the pole to where the coaxial cable feedline connected to the antenna wires.  I could see one of the antenna wires sticking out into free space and knew I had found the problem.  I pulled the mast down, reattached the wire to its binding post and raised the mast again.  Matt then reported my signal level had raised from s6 to s9.  So I owe all previous contacts my apologies for the low signal, all due to not checking the antenna properly.  The same problem was probably affecting signal levels on the previous summit too.

After moving to 20m I made a good contact with Peter VK4JD, who was much stronger on 20m than he had been on 40.  Then a contact with John VK6NU and another with John on CW on 14062.  I heard a few European stations calling me on CW but none of them responded to my replies, so were apparently calling blind, on the basis of the Sotawatch spot.  No contacts occurred from these blind calls.  I wonder how often they work.

By then it was just after 7pm local time and I needed to pack up and leave, to avoid making too much of the return trip in darkness.  It took about 45mins to walk back to my bike, so perhaps it was more than 2km.  From that point it was a fairly quick ride back to the car, passing a few brumbies on the way.

I arrived back at Jindabyne just after 9pm.

 VK2/SM-001 Mt Kosciuszko

I arrived at Charlotte Pass at about 9:45 am, somewhat later than planned.  With the squid pole attached to the crossbar of my bike, I rode the first 4.5km then pushed the bike up the steeper sections past Seaman’s Hut and up to Rawson’s Gap where there are public toilets and bike racks.  Bikes are not permitted past that point.

It took me about 2 hours to cover the 7.6km from CP to Rawson’s Gap.   I had to walk about 4km of this, slowly, as parts of it were too steep for my bike.  I may have been able to ride more of this section with a lower geared bike. Mine is a general purpose road bike with 21 gears and no spring suspension. The gears and tyres are not really suitable for this kind of “road”.

From Rawson’s Gap to the top of Kosciuszko is about 1.4 km, climbing about 150m vertically over that distance.  Rawson’s is a common point where the track from Charlotte Pass and the track from the top of the Thredbo chairlift meet.  After a break there to lock my bike, detach the squid pole and get ready to walk, I set off up the final section of the ascent.

My first contact was made at 0218, the last was made at 0351.  I used 7mhz for nearly all contacts.  The 20m band was sounding almost dead. the only contact made on 20m was with VK4JD.  I also made a brief contact with VK2KVP in Murrumbateman via the VK1RGI repeater on Mt Ginini.  Other repeaters were heard while the 2m fm radio was scanning around all the memories.  John VK2YW was heard chatting to others in the Wagga area, the Albury repeater was heard a few times.

After leaving the summit I noticed the clouds to the north looked particularly dark and I knew there would be some rain on the trip back to Charlotte Pass.  I retrieved a jacket from my backpack as part of my preparations for the return trip by bike.

As it was all downhill for about 4km past Seaman’s Hut to the Snowy River bridge, then only a short section with a slight uphill slope, followed by about 4km of a gentle downhill slope, the return journey to CP took only about 30 mins.   A shower of rain with wind lasted for about half of that journey.  Back at the car,  I chatted with a friendly couple who had also just returned from Kosciuszko, one of them riding and the other running.  They took less than 3 hours for their entire return journey, but they didn’t have a radio to operate on the mountain!

It occurred to me later that as Thredbo is at about 1400m ASL and Kosciuszko is 2229, the vertical distance is 830m or so.  This is not much more than the vertical distance we climb for Mt Tennent in south Canberra, though it is lower altitudes (from about 620 to 1384, or 764m). For someone taking the chairlift at Thredbo, the distance required is reduced by about 600m, making the climb up Mt Tennent more difficult than the trip from Thredbo to Kosciuszko.

VK2/SM-068 The Peak

Over a coffee in Cooma on the morning of 22 Jan, I browsed the summit list and decided to check with Rod VK2TWR how to find this one.  He provided the directions and said my car would easily drive up the hill.

Located about half way between Cooma and Nimmitabel, this summit is reached via about 10km of dirt road, the last 300m being fairly rutted and rough, with many large thistles covering the track and adjacent land.  The turnoff is marked with a sign marked “The Peak” at 22 km from Cooma just after a sign indicating 90km to Bega.  There is a Telstra building and tower on the summit.

I parked near the building compound and climbed the final bit up to the trig point.  Attached the pole to the trig and operated on 40m ssb and cw, 20m produced contacts with VK5IS, VK4JD and VK5WG.  I didn’t qualify this on cw or on 20m, making contacts with only 3 unique callsigns on cw and only 3 contacts on 20m.

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SOTA feeding frenzy 1st Jan 2015

Alerts published on Sotawatch late in December 2014 had given some indication of how many activators were planning to visit summits on the morning of 1st January 2015 and it looked like being a busy day.

To make best use of this opportunity, Andrew Moseley VK1NAM and I decided on Mt Tumanang, coded VK2/SM-049, south east of Canberra and south of Captains Flat. Neither of us had activated this summit before today so we were hoping to gain not only the S2S points from working other activators from this summit, but two sets of activator points, being 2014 in UTC prior to 11AM and 2015 afterwards.

The trip was planned and marked on Andrew’s GPS so we would have some knowledge of distances and some warning of major turns needed within the forest. I left home at about 6:15 to collect Andrew at 7:30. About an hour to the Cowangerong fire trail turnoff on Captains Flat Rd and in another hour we were parked on the fire trail at the foot of the ridge extending north west from the summit. The walk up to the summit was in typical southeastern Australian eucalyptus forest. The walk only took 20 minutes or so. We set up just to the east of the trig station and decided to set up one rig on 40m and the other on 20m. In addition we used the 40m antenna on 6m.

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After making several surprising contacts on 6m, one to Gerard VK2IO at Mt Eliot near Gosford NSW, and another to Paul VK1ATP at Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026, we ventured onto the 40m band to see how conditions were.

Prior to 0000 UTC each activator was keen to score as many s2s points as possible, so many chasers probably missed out on contacts during this period. Each cq call was greeted with several S2S responses and priority was given to S2S, as this is the day when activators are out there to fish for S2S and are keen to make best use of the time.

For the next two hours it was frantic on the 40m band all the way up to 7170 where we found it was possible to provide contacts for chasers, but only for a few contacts at a time until other activators found us and requested priority.

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Eventually we decided to move on to Mt Cowangerong, which we had passed on the way to Mt Tumanang. It took about an hour of quite slow travelling with 4WD-low engaged for some of the time. The erosion control humps on the road vary in size but some are big enough that you don’t really know what’s on the other side.

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The FJ Cruiser shown on top of an erosion barrier

 

 

The photo does not really show the size of the hump. See similar photos in the account by Mark VK1EM.  The FJ cruiser has plenty of clearance and is probably a little shorter than Mark’s Pajero so the angles of these erosion barriers did not pose any problem for us.

At Mt Cowangerong it was somewhat more subdued, though we still earned and handed out many S2S and chaser points.

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Andrew VK1NAM relaxing into some contacts at Mt Cowangerong

 

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VK1DA at Mt Cowangerong

Overall a great day for some SOTA operation on HF, some surprise contacts on 6m and fairly low conditions on 20m and above. While we did hear one VK6 station, signal levels were very low and we had no luck in being heard despite a sked lined up by VK5PAS.

I know some operators are not keen on these big activity days. But they create a big splash on an otherwise quiet band and give many people a chance to earn some new points, new unique summits worked and a boost to the S2S tally. I think my own S2S tally increased by over 270. Given that i was hoping to reach 1000 by the end of 2014 and was very pleased to do so (something that took almost 2 years to achieve)  I was stunned to see my S2S score rise by 27% on one day.

We wanted each of us to be able to make all the s2s contacts possible, so we needed the equipment to be closely located. That meant some interference between the two radios, both emitting wide band hash whenever transmitting. We will need to consider alternative layouts if we want to operate simultaneously in future. The obvious method is to separate the equipment widely and that would normally be the case with each of us using different bands. On other sites we have been able to operate on different bands with a separation of 20-30m and we know that other joint expeditions have managed to even operate on the opposite ends of the same band, one on ssb and one on cw.

Thanks again to Andrew VK1NAM for his guidance, navigation and good humour during the day.