Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011 is a summit that had not been activated before. Kevin, VK3KAB and I had discussed activating it earlier, but time had got away. After an email from Kevin the week before, the plan was to head up on the 19th May and possibly activate Mt. Buller, all going well. The weather forecast for the day was not too bad considering the weather we had the days before.
The plan was for an early start at 5am on Sunday, which meant getting up just after 4am (a tough call after Saturday night). It rained on and off all night at home so I didn’t have high hopes for the mountain weather.
During the drive up, we left a lot of the rain behind once over the divide.
Mt Stirling (1749 metres)
Parts of the Stirling Circuit Rd. were already closed off, so the best access looked like being from Howqua Hut. The walk to the summit from there is 3.9km up a 4wd track which was also recently closed to vehicles. We arrived at Howqua Gap at 8:15am which was pretty well bang on Kevin’s plan. The walk to the summit starts off quite steep and has an overall elevation gain of around 400 metres.
It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach the summit in white out conditions. The snow started at about 1500 metres and eventually covered the track and made walking a little difficult, especially at the summit. The Aussie bush does look great in snow though.
The temperature at the summit at 9:30am was about -2 degrees with a stiff wind blowing. I found a nice crack in a rock that the squid pole fitted into and put up the end fed half wave while Kevin assembled the Buddipole. The cold made it hard to assemble things and fingers quickly became numb with the gloves off. At about 2350 UTC, we went on air and there was a complete pile up.
Before the UTC rollover, I made about 5 contacts and four of those were summit to summits with VK3HRA, VK3MRG, VK1DI and VK3KAN. Kevin made a similar number, we just passed the microphone between us. After the UTC rollover, I made a couple more S2S contacts but you could see ice forming on things including the antenna matcher and we were starting to feel the cold, so at 10:17am, we packed up and left the summit. The walk down was around an hour, so we had lunch at Howqua Hut, which is quite comfortable inside. It looked recently rebuilt. This would be a good place to camp at before an activation, although it must be popular in better weather.
We were still ahead of schedule so after a bit of a rest we headed off to Mt. Buller.
Mt Buller VK3/VE-008 1805 Metres
We were hoping that we could drive to the Mt. Buller Summit car park which is just a short walk to the summit, but we came to a “road closed” sign at the Village. We put on jackets and packs and headed up the chair lift line. It was about 1.4km from where we had parked. Conditions were a lot calmer than Stirling, but still a whiteout. We set up our station on the stone stairs that lead to the summit, just a few metres down as we wanted to keep out of the wind. I attempted to spot on Sotawatch, but for some reason it kept failing. We were on air at 1:49pm local.
The band wasn’t so busy, we had 1 summit to summit with Alan, VK3HRA and made a dozen contacts when the wind started to pick up. After 20 minutes we packed up and made our way back to the car.
The Paps VK3/VE-204
On the way up we decided if there was time we would drop by The Paps as it looked fairly straight forward to activate. We were well ahead of time, so The Paps it was. The turn off on the Melbourne side of Mansfield is well signed and there is a rough road that goes through a farm to The Paps reserve. The road had some long ruts along it although we saw a woman in a Mazda 323 negotiate it quite well. The road goes around the hill and winds it way steeply to the top, Kevins 4wd in low range was fine on it. The view made a nice change from the white out conditions on the other two summits.
Activation of the Paps was straight forward, Kevin set up the Buddipole and I setup the end fed half wave, we made about 20 contacts with 3 summit to summits, VK3MRG, VK5CZ and VK3HRA. All in all a great day of SOTA and its fantastic to hear all the activity we have now.