The Hotham S2S-fest February 2019

For several years a dozen or more SOTA fanatics have met at the Victorian snowfields destination of Mt Hotham for a weekend of multiple activations, many S2S contacts between summits and some social activities. I had intended to join in this event several times in the past but various problems prevented it.
This year I made it and had a great time too. The organiser of the event is Brian VK3BCM who manages the lodge during the winter and knows the area well.
Wade VK1MIC was also keen to attend so on Friday 1st Feb we travelled together down the Hume Highway from Yass to Albury then south to Mt Big Ben to score our first points for the weekend. But about 3/4 of the way up the forest road we found a substantial tree blocking the road up to the summit.

Road blockage. Decision made to go to another summit rather than spending time clearing this road.
We decided it could take a long time to clear the road and there could even be more trees blocking the road further on, so decided to turn around and go to Mt Porepunkah.  Taking the route suggested by the GPS was not successful and after consulting several blogs we found which route was recommended.  It was quite easy to reach the summit that way and we activated the summit successfully, before heading for Mt Hotham via Bright.
On Saturday we joined a convoy of three cars heading south west to Mt Murray and Mt Selwyn and others, but after Mt Selwyn we decided to detour back to Bright to refuel for the following day.  That might not have been necessary as fuel would be available in Omeo but it seemed prudent at the time.
L-R Compton VK2HRX, Wade VK1MIC, Andrew VK1DA, Ken VK3KIM at Mt Selwyn

On the Saturday evening activation at Mt Hotham, Wade wanted to activate on FT8 and did so successfully on HF, though the subsequent sked with Compton VK2HRX on 1296 mhz using FT8 was unsuccessful for reasons that are unclear. The 1296 transverter and 4 element yagi was put to good use, with a dozen or so of the activators making contacts with Andrew VK3JBL at Mt Torbreck, a distance of just over 100km and all the more satisfying as Andrew’s transverter was operating at reduced power of a few hundred milliwatts.  The photos below were provided to Gerard 2IO for his composite article on the weekend, thanks to the photographer. They show Wade and me, with the setup used on 1296 (FT817 and SG-LAB transverter, a 4 element yagi on a camera tripod weighed down (against the breeze) by a bag of groceries I found in the car… have to be creative sometimes.

On Sunday we joined a group heading east to Omeo then north for a round trip via five summits north of Omeo.
On most summits it was possible to share a single HF station to make the CW contacts I needed to qualify on CW and count towards a CW MG award. Towards the end of the Sunday trip storms were approaching and we adopted a hit and run strategy by making four quick contacts on 2m FM and not setting up on HF at all.  I’d like to return to all of those summits and have a more leisurely activation on HF bands, ssb and cw.
The visit to the historical Washington Winch site was interesting too.
Gerard, Compton and Wade at one of the summits we visited
Cheerful road sign
Due to the large number of activators trying to qualify their summits on 146.5fm, it was often difficult to satisfy all activators with immediate contacts.  Some methodology for making more use of the VFO dial, using another 2 or 3 frequencies would be useful. There are channels available but we need to realise that 25 khz channel spacing is not enough protection from a very local signal.
Apart from the radio contacts I also learned a thing or two about my 4WD and gained some confidence about climbing steep rocky roads.
On the Monday after helping Brian to move a woodpile inside the lodge we drove over to Wangaratta and enjoyed a coffee with Warren VK3BYD.  Then we drove up to Holbrook and visited Bernard VK2IB and his partner Deb.
It’s always good to meet people you have talked with on air.
I had met about half of the gang at Hotham before and it was great to catch up with them. And it was great to meet others who I had spoken to on the radio but was not meeting in person for the first time, in particular Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT. Sid was working with an injured foot but managed to activate every summit visited. (I noticed that Adele was subsequently successful in gaining her Mountain Goat award, which was great to see.)