The annual Australia Day holiday, Thursday January 26th 2017, set up an opportunity for a break and some alpine walking and activating. Leaving Melbourne on Wednesday 25th I drove to Mt Buffalo and camped at Lake Catani on the Mt Buffalo plateau. Mt Buffalo is a mountain plateau (1400 meters) and national park, about 350 km north east of Melbourne. This is a sub-alpine camp site which must be reserved ahead of arrival with Parks Victoria. There are lots of good camping spots under low snow-gums, a pristine fresh water lake that you can swim in, hot showers, no drinking water, and (apparently) a population of endemic dingoes. Just down the road is former ski spot Dingo Dell, where I’ve ski’d many years earlier. I had no idea that it is named after these Australian native dogs.
After setting up my one man tent (about 7 minutes) and with a few hours of daylight I drove to one of the four SOTA summits on the plateau, The Hump VK3/VE-019 (1695m) and ascended. I activated this summit 18 months earlier in winter.
Conditions at the top could not have been better. Hardly a breath of wind. I started on 30m CW and worked Andy, ZL3KKW, my sigs 529. After that great start, nothing else, so I reverted to 40 meters SSB and worked some VKs 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7. Gerard told me he had listened for me on 30m and heard nothing. After an hour or so, made longer by my not wanting to leave the summit in such perfect conditions, I packed up. The nearby Cathedral looked surreal in the setting sun.
Back at Lake Catani everything was peaceful, and very dark. No power, no lights, no TV, no cell coverage. I listened for a while to my portable battery powered transistor radio, which (close to ground level inside the little tent) barely picked up a discernible AM signal. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to a distant party strumming an acoustic guitar by their camp fire and singing songs. Fleetwood Mac. Then Creedence. It could have been 1975. It’s remarkable how, even in this age of social media, smartphone addiction and Fear Of Missing Out, when all electricity is removed, people revert to natural and timeless social behaviours, like singing 40 year old rock classics around a camp fire. The next morning I packed up and drove to The Horn VE-014 (1723 m).
There is a convenient landing about 10 meters down the staircase from where you can operate from, and be off the stairs and away from the lookout in case of other visitors. The activation started on 30m CW again but although I heard some weak American stations, noone heard me, despite getting a spot out. I reverted to 40 meters and worked a solid stream of Australia Day well-wishers. The last contact I had was with Brett VK2VW. He asked me how many points the summit was worth. I told him 10. He suddenly got quite excited as he realised he had just qualified as Shack Sloth (1,000 chaser points). Congratulations Brett!
As I was finishing, a group ascended with calipers and carabiners clanging. Just when you think operating a small radio from a mountain top is a bit strange, a group of rock climbers arrives. After enjoying the view from the lookout they, like me, were going down. Just not the same way as they came up.
As for me, it was two (summits) down, one to go. Departing the Horn not long after 9.45am I drove back north on the plateau for the Mt McLeod VK3/VE-034 (1528 m) access track.
The drive to The Reservoir (an actual small reservoir behind a concrete dam wall) runs west just before the Parks Victoria office, it is a few kilometers and a good dirt road. The gate at Mt McLeod Track was closed as expected. From here, it is 8 kilometers each way, Parks Victoria advise 3 hours walking each way, I did it in 2.5 hours each way, plus an hour for activation, so it was a solid 6 hour round trip. The track is a bit overgrown but easy to follow, and up and down. After about 1 km, take the walking track signed ‘Mt McLeod shortcut’ on the right, it follows a contour and is easier, on the way home I stayed on the Mt McLeod Track to see where it went… it went up, a stiff climb, then back down again, not what I appreciated in my 15th and 16th kilometers of the day.
The track to Mt Anderson is marked on the Parks Victoria map 3 kilometers in on the left (outbound). I did not follow it. Around this point my SOTA Finder app was showing Ulrich Peak as 800m away, tantalisingly close, but I did not attempt to get up there as there is no track, I had not studied maps or blogs, I had no plan of approach, and I did not feel like a speculative bush bash.
At the far end Mt McLeod Track opens out onto a grassy meadow. A bush toilet marks the camping area. The actual summit is a granite monolith, much like The Hump, and the climb up is 750 meters with some rock scrambling. On top the views are great, particularly south across to the Cathedral and The Hump.
On the summit it was unexpectedly hot and fly infested. The activation went fine, 7 contacts including 2 summit to summits, signals down on the evening and morning ones, as expected for this time of day.
The north west part of the plateau is not much visited, and it makes for an isolated and remote walk. I suggest allowing plenty of time, taking lots of water in the warmer months, as parts of the track are exposed. On a mild summer’s day in Melbourne, mid-20 degrees Celsius, it was hotter and quite dry on the north west Buffalo plateau (probably about 30 C).
After the long walk back to the car I drove off Mt Buffalo and on to Mt Beauty at the foothills of Mts Bogong and Feathertop, ready for the next two days of walking and summit-bagging.