Activators have been bemoaning the poor state of HF propagation recently. But when planning an August SOTA activation in Melbourne, the propagation forecast runs a distant second to the weather forecast. If the HF propagation is bad you might not get the 4 contacts, but if the weather is bad you might get seriously bogged or snowed in. If nothing else you’ll come home wet and miserable. So I studied the weather report carefully for Friday the 4th of August. A series of three low pressure systems of varying strength were on the weather map bringing low temperatures, strong winds, rain and snow down to 900 meters. Friday morning looked to afford a break. I considered Mt Matlock (VK3/VC-001) but when the morning came after an evening of steady rain I opted for Federation Range (VK3/VN-029) near Lake Mountain, figuring that walking 5km each way through slushy snow would be better than driving 50km each way along the pot-holed water-logged C511. As it happened, it was the right choice.
I left home at 0615 and got to Marysville by 0735 for breakfast, to discover the ski hire shops opened at 0800. In the shop the snow cams showed fresh falls overnight, and I was encouraged to hire skis. I didn’t need much encouragement. Up at Lake Mountain, I was one of the first on the trails on an overnight 10cm fall. I know that doesn’t sound like much, particularly to my extensive ZL or European readership, but Lake Mountain is the closest peak to Melbourne that reliably gets snow, being less than 90 minutes drive. Higher mountains have proper resorts but they are 3 to 4 hours drive. So some Melburnians watch the winter weather and after a Lake Mountain fall, even a light one, will come up for a few hours of play.
The cross-country ski out to Boundary Hut for the Federation Range activation zone is about 5km, mostly up hill, along Royston Track, Panorama Track, then Boundary Hut track. Boundary Hut is the remnants of a mountain hut. Apparently it was built by a group of friends in the 1970s who hand carried in the building materials. The hut was demolished in the late 1980s. Just he stone walls to waist height remain. It makes a convenient operating table. SOTAFinder shows the proximity of the summit and its SOTA neighbours. Mt Bullfight at the southern end of the Rubicon Valley is just next door.
In light snow fall I spotted a bit after 1100, started on 40m CW and raised VK5IS, VK4TJ and VK2YW. I also heard VK3DPW, very weakly, but I missed the call on first attempt and did not hear a second call. On sideband I worked Nev VK5WG, also using an OzQrp MST kit radio, and VK5FANA Adrian.
After 35 minutes at Federation Range things were getting cold, the radio speaker cone had taken enough snowflake thru the grill, and my paper logbook was turning white. The ski back out tested my very undeveloped cross country skills. On cross country skis, going at walking pace makes me feel out of control. The backpack did not help and I face-planted several times. I bent my legs to keep center of gravity low which made me a bit more stable. Back at the car park by 1300 and in Marysville by 1400. Next stop, Mt Donna Buang (VK3/VC-002) via Acheron Way, with a detour on Feiglins Road up to Mt Strickland (VK3/VN-030).
Mt Strickland is less than 10 minutes’ drive off Acheron Way. An area about 2km in has been recently logged and burned and looks scarred. The summit was in cloud, cold and damp. A quick SSB activation with VK7HRS Trent, ZL1BYZ John, VK5WG Nev, VK5CZ Ian, VK3RV/5 Peter and VK2YW John. Everything was wet from mountain mist. Thanks to John who worked hard to pull my 3×1 signal out of the noise.
Finally, up to Mt Donna Buang, past two open gates, arriving around 1600. Again, the summit was completely covered in misty cloud. About three car-loads of well-rugged up people were departing. Visibility was about 100 meters, so there was nothing to see. I walked to the south-west corner of the toboggan clearing, to the edge of the bush, where I leaned the squid pole against a mid-sized tree. On air at 1627, I worked VK5WG Nev, VK5CZ Ian, VK4RF and VK4HA Rick and VK4FE. Not knowing if there would be gate closures, I called it a day and cleared off.
A great winter’s day in the Yarra Ranges. Good interstate propagation on 7MHz with absolutely no NVIS. Worked VK2, 4, 5, 7 and ZL1. SSB signal reports varied from 3×1 (VK2YW) and 3×3 (ZL1BYZ) to 5×7 (most of the VK5s). All CW reports were 559 to 579. Not a VK3 to poke a stick at, obviously, no copy intra-State whatsoever. Thanks to all chasers, thanks to the propagation gods, and thanks to the SOTA gods (no breakages or losses).