(Almost) My First Activation

On Monday, the XYL decided she wanted to get out of the house tomorrow and smell the bush air while Main Child and Spare Child were in their respective educational
facilities. To my great surprise, she agreed a quick jaunt up Flinders Peak (VK3/VC-030) would suffice, and didn’t even roll her eyes when she realised there was an activation chance and an ulterior motive! (She did however specify that I was not to acknowledge her while on the summit, and to activate well away from her lest people think we were somehow related…)

Without the ubiquitous FT-817 or some other portable HF facilities in my possession, it would only be a 2m activation with a HT and a slim jim. This left me a little nervous about qualifying the summit, although I had worked Andrew VK1NAM at about twice the distance anticipated without any problems, so I was feeling lucky.

The luck held this morning, when the day dawned in what a poet might describe as glorious conditions. The sky was clear, temperatures were tipped to be cool in the morning, before warming up later on, and I packed all my stuff together and dropped both Main and Spare Child in at school and kinder. The luck held even longer – the wife decided she had too much to do to climb a mountain, so I was on my own. No pressure to qualify quickly!

"No, Your Honour, I wasn't operating my phone while driving"

“No, Your Honour, I wasn’t operating my phone while driving”

Flinders Peak is one of the icons of the Geelong region. The tallest peak in the You Yangs, it dominates the skyline pretty much anywhere you are in Geelong, and every schoolkid spends a day up there in Year 7 helping remove Boneseed from the You Yangs. I personally copped a fair bit of flak because boneseed was introduced to Australia from South Africa, much like me. We also used to come up to the You Yangs whenever it was show day with friends, so I’ve climbed Flinders Peak many times; as recently as three months ago with the family too.  It is widely and erroneously believed to be an extinct volcano – most school teachers in Geelong teach it that way – but it’s really just a plug of magma that didn’t quite reach the surface.  The surface then eroded away, leaving the peak.  Matthew Flinders climbed the peak during his circumnavigation of Australia, which is where the name comes from (obviously)

With my sort of history with the mountain, I anticipated I’d make it up the mountain in about fifteen minutes, but I hadn’t really anticipated the after-effects of the previous night. I’d filled in with my father-in-law’s tennis team because they were short, but I wasn’t enough, and we just ended up playing American doubles for almost two hours. That’s a lot of games of tennis strung together with no break, and my calves and thighs were seriously hurting as I headed up the path. The path is steep, but filled with granite rocks. This is a change from the older cut-and-fill-treated-pine steps of my youth, and I think it makes the climb a bit harder, as the steps have a higher rise than before. Either that or I’m getting older. Perhaps a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B.

It took me 18 minutes to get to the summit, largely because I was later than I’d alerted the night before, and because there was no one else in my way. I was expecting the park to be a bit busier, but the runners were largely finished (crazy idiots that run to the top and down), the mountain bikers were down below the peak, and the tourists from Melbourne hadn’t yet arrived.

I arrived at the summit to find it empty. I have never experienced that in all the times I’ve been there. I set up about 10:15 local on a granite rock where the trig marker is (it’s not the summit, but it’s only a meter lower, and it’s stable rock, I guess). Slim jim went up the squid pole, attached to a tree, and I put out a CQ call. The reply was blue silence. I called again a few times, before I was interrupted by a nice young lady who had plonked herself down on the same granite rock and proceeded to ask me what I was doing.

The summit.  I'm standing on the activation spot, a large granite boulder.  Plenty of those around here.

The summit. The boulder to the right was my activation spot.

She was very impressed with the idea of SOTA, having a strong desire “to just elevate myself above the normal plane”. I wouldn’t want to denigrate the vibe of the conversation by describing it as wishy-washy and vague, but it certainly took an interesting turn when she mentioned “she was looking for a boyfriend who wanted to climb mountains with her.” Suddenly, I found myself alone on top of a mountain with a young lady, a radio that didn’t appear to be working properly, and no wife in sight. What was happening with my luck!? I did what any red-blooded man would do in that situation. I put out another CQ.

With no reply to three CQs, I pulled out my phone and put up a spot. The young lady left, wishing me luck, and shortly afterwards, John VK3JMC came back to me and we tried to hold a QSO. He alternated between booming in and not being able to be heard. We couldn’t swap signal reports, and it seemed karma was no longer on my side. I could key up the local repeater, but couldn’t keep a QSO going. I began to suspect equipment failure somewhere along the line, probably in the antenna.

About this time, the summit was occupied again by a young family, who, on leaving, decided to ask what I was doing. This led to another SOTA/Amateur Radio conversation with the dad, and then they left. The unfortunate part was that as they did that, the phone slid off my lap, dropped all of 5mm onto the only prominent piece of granite on the rock and put a crack in the screen. Not a bad one – it’s still functional – but sad nonetheless. I put out one last CQ to which there was no reply, and then decided to pack up. I had just turned back to my backpack when Ron VK3AFW’s voice again boomed out of the HT. I do like FM, it makes things so clear.

Try as I might, and I did try – slim jim, rubber ducky, standing up, sitting down, on one leg, etc – I couldn’t get back to Ron. Highly, highly frustrating. I took Andrew VK1DA’s advice to enjoy the view, a nice one, and took some photos, before packing up again. As I dropped the squid pole (not a euphemism), one of two nubile young lasses kitted out in running attire asked me if I was doing some work. Rather than try to bore them with SOTA talk, I just replied, “Yeah, but not doing too well.” The reply, from the other one, was a stunning, “Oh well. Cool beard.”

I cannot make this stuff up. I mean, I’ve sported facial hair since before the hipsters decided facial topiary was the new cool thing that every mid-twenties male needs to filter his latte. I, like Chuck Norris, respect the beard as a manly pursuit brought about by laziness and a lack of razors, not some ironic cliche that will be (ab)used and then be gone in a year’s time. But I have never, and I mean never, had my beard described as cool. On top of a mountain. By a rather pretty young lady. The universe was truly messing with me.

A frustrated (non)activator with a cool beard.

A frustrated (non)activator with a cool beard.  At this point it was hot and I’d left the hat in the car.

I headed back down the mountain as the hordes of tourists were arriving and the paths can get a bit narrow. I stopped to take a few photos along the way. I arrived back home around lunch time, a disappointed but not a dejected man. After all, I’d spent a glorious day out in the sunshine climbing a mountain with a great view. It sure beat other You Yangs experiences, like removing an invasive weed for the best part of a day. I will take a look at the signal path of the HT and try to work out what happened, while trying to sneak some form of portable HF transceiver into the house.

Luck was not with me today by the end. However, another perspective, of course, is that you make your own luck. My luck started to go downhill right after I awkwardly ignored the provocative statements of the first lady. Clearly, the universe was saying I should have engaged her in further conversation just to see how lucky I could get…

A squid pole up a tree.

A squid pole up a tree with a slim jim at the top

Bunjil, a geoglyph made from rocks to the north east of the summit

Bunjil, a geoglyph made from rocks to the north east of the summit



Looking south towards Geelong


Looking South East towards Avalon Airport


Looking North East towards Melbourne. Very hazy in the morning, but cleared up later as I descended