Yesterday I decided it was time to push myself further, and I decided the theme would be ’20’. Twenty-second of May. First 20-point day with two 10 pointers. First day walking over 20km. The targets would be Mt St Phillack (VK3/VT-006) and Talbot Peak (VK3/VT-010)
The day started, unfortunately, with the tail end of a conference call for work, finishing up about 12:15am, before I crawled into bed for 4 hours sleep. I left home about 5am, heading up to Mt Baw Baw. By sheer misfortune, the Monash Freeway was blocked due to a bomb scare, and I was forced to bypass down via Kings Way and Dandenong Road, which added at least 30 minutes onto my travel time. I arrived at Baw Baw car park at 9am, and quickly grabbed my gear and headed up Mueller’s Track.
Mueller’s Track is a good way to start a climb by getting the big incline out the way first. Once onto the Baw Baw plateau, the path is fairly flat along the Village Trail into the Baw Baw National Park. It took me about 50 minutes to reach Mt St Phillack, after turning onto the Australian Alpine Walking Track. I took a few photos because it was sunny, but my first target was Talbot Peak. I would have to come back via the AAWT to Mt St Phillack, so I’d planned to activate it in the afternoon.
I kept going down the AAWT, taking about 2 hours to reach Talbot Peak from Mt St Phillack, for a distance of about 12km from Baw Baw village. The path along the AAWT is a bit overgrown and very muddy in places, although the track is obvious at all times. The track actually passes just to the north of the summit, with the trig point visible from the track, and an easy off-course stroll to it.
Once there, I set up the squid pole attached to a stump, and strung out the linked dipole. I jumped on 40m first, and found Russ VK2BJP on VK3/VE-126 for a Summit-to-Summit, pushing me over the 300 point mark for S2S contacts. I then worked another 13 stations on 40m, before QSYing up to 20m.
I had no phone coverage so was unable to spot, so I trawled the band a bit, stumbling onto GB1ST working inaudible NA stations. After I heard him finish up a contact, I cranked the power, put a call out and got back an incredulous “Was that a VK??”. My signal was a 54 to Mark, operating a special call for the Saltram Telegraph near Plymouth. He was 57 to me, at 0236 UTC, which suggested either propagation was going to be good for DX back at Mt St Phillack, or it would have already closed on 20m by the time I got back. Either way, it was time to pack up and head back to Mt St Phillack.
I went back the way I came, enjoying the downhill moments and solitude. It was right until midway back along the AAWT that I saw my first other human being, a school group that looked like they were walking the track properly towards Walhalla. The group were taking a break in a clearing, and were well-behaved, although there was a bit of junk I saw along the track that wasn’t there when I’d come through in the morning.
After almost 7 kilometres, I reached the Rock Shelter at the intersection of the track back to St Gwinear car park. I stopped here for a decent break and to shovel more food into my mouth. It was here that I hit the wall and the walk stopped being truly fun. I had covered 19.8km at this point, when I had to turn the GPS tracking off on my phone to ensure I’d have enough battery to spot myself on 20m at Mt St Phillack.
The sign at the intersection said 5km to the Baw Baw village, which left me staring at 25km and rapidly losing motivation. I had no choice, however, as my car was at Baw Baw village, and I had to get home somehow. I started the climb back up to the top of Mt St Phillack, but it took a while longer than I’d taken in the morning.
By the time I arrived, it had started to rain; that annoying, drizzly rain that is not strong enough to be rain, but strong enough to really be annoying. I donned my rain jacket, set up my squid pole on the summit cairn, and strung out the dipole. I initially intended to jump on 40m, but the rain meant I was not enjoying myself much, so I dropped the dipole, undid the links and went straight to 20m.
I had intermittent phone coverage, and I spotted myself for 14,332 kHz. I worked Don G0RQL first, who had me at 3 and 3, although I could hear Don very well, and then worked Peter VK3PF, Gerard VK2JNG and Paul VK2KTT to qualify the summit. While working these chasers, I’d had to QSY down to 14,322.5 kHz as some distorted idiot was splattering QRM across 6kHz from 14,338 kHz onto my frequency.
I followed up with a VK4 contact, VK4DD, and then VK6 with John VK6NU coming in. I also managed VK5 with VK5NQP before I worked Colin G4UXH for my third G station for the day, and finished with Mike VK6MB. I have been trying to work Mike for a while, but this was the first time we’d actually completed a QSO.
At that point, 10 contacts down, the heavens started to open up. My log book was already a mess from the drizzle and I wasn’t writing a lot of things down clearly, so I decided to go QRT. About ten minutes later, my SMS saying I’d QSYed down 10 went out, so that might have been confusing. If it was, I’m sorry, but by now I was past caring, with 4km to go back to Baw Baw village.
I ran into my second group of people, two middle-aged people going for a walk close to sunset, who were curious about the ham gear and asked a few questions about SOTA. They said they saw a few people out counting frogs or flowers, but this was the first time they’d met a SOTA activator.
I dropped down Mueller’s Track about 90 minutes after leaving Mt St Phillack, and was greeted by a hideously cruel uphill climb back to my car. I got there, shoved the gear in the back, and headed down the mountain. By now the sun was down and the roads wet and slippery so I took it a bit carefully. The road, though, is twistiness personified, and though I’d discounted the Mt St Gwinear approach due to the extra 40 minutes it added from my home QTH, I reckon I’d have made that up in staying sane on the descent. Seems everyone who goes to Mt St Phillack from Mt Baw Baw reaches the same conclusion.
I stopped at a Hungry Jacks at Nar Nar Goon and filled the car up with petrol and myself with a large Bacon Deluxe meal, before facing the 2 hours back to Geelong from there. The Monash freeway was open again which allowed me some time savings, and I arrived back home at 9pm, 16 hours after I’d left, having walked 25km with radio gear on 4 hours sleep and 8 hours driving.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have tried that length of walk on such little sleep, but I’d been planning it for a while, the opportunity to increase my activator score by another 50% was very tempting, and I’d looked at everything except my late-night-call schedule. I did get the 20 points (the most in a day I’d achieved), I worked some nice DX, and I did prove something to myself about my limits. I’m just not 100% sure what yet – perhaps that I’m an idiot!
My next plans are to tackle a VK4 summit in about a week’s time as I’ll be there for work, which should get me Mountain Explorer at the Bronze level, and then a VK1 summit when I get there for work a few weeks later, probably Mt Ainslie, probably on June 18th.