I have now visited Mt Bethungra about six times now with the last five being by 4wd vehicle. The first time I was silly enough to walk it with a couple of others, a repeater, antenna and car battery in tow. Now if you have passed Mt Bethungra – its off to the right just as you cross the railway line between Bethungra village and Cootamundra on the Olympic way, you will realise it is a very large and steep hill. That was back in the 1980’s when I was young and a lot fitter than I am today. As I remember it, it was cold, wet and foggy. Why did we do it? We were testing Mt Bethungra as a site for the then South West Amateur Radio Society. The Society is now defunct and move forward thirty years and Wagga Amateur Radio Club now has the site as home to VK2RBE – a solar operated repeater site linked to 5 others covering the greater part of the Riverina. You can now drive to the top but its a low range 4WD trip up a rocky and sometimes slippery track. Not to be attempted after rain. But its a trip I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to doing – anytime. I might add its on private property and access can only be got by phoning the owner.
Mt Bethungra is a SOTA summit and is worth 4 activator points. I had an ulterior motive for wanting to do the trip and even did it mid week when the likelihood of Summit to Summit activations were unlikely and that was to check on the work Mike VK2DAI and myself did in resurrecting the batteries at the site some six months previous. For this activation Jeff VK2XD again accompanied me and was both my log keeper and official photographer. Actually, I lie – it was to activate the summit first and foremost, the checking of the batteries was secondary. 🙂
I picked Jeff up at around 8.40 on Wednesday 23rd October – a day where the Blue Mountains were slowly turning black and where they were they were expecting high winds and even higher temperatures whilst out here on the edge of the southern tablelands we were expecting rain and overcast and cool conditions. Perfect weather for doing this sort of thing. In fact we got no rain but it was relatively cool and overcast. In Melbourne on the other hand it was raining and cold. We live in a country full of extremes!
When we arrived at the gate into the property there was a guy in front of us going in who turned out to be a surveyor for ARTC and was about to go looking for old survey pegs as the road was being widened in the area of the railway crossing just down the road and so we helped him access the lock and he went on his way and we went ours – up. As I said, I love the climb and the Troopy didn’t disappoint me as it crawled up in 2nd gear low range doing a mere 1400 RPM. It takes about 15 minutes to do the drive and like many of the summits the view is terrific. I parked a short distance from the towers and we loaded up and set off northwards along the ridge. Saw a few roos disappearing down the side of the ridge line but didnt see any other wildlife after that. I have often seen goats up here but none today.
We set up a couple of hundred metres from the car in a bit of a clearing and using a rock for the operating table got stuck into it. You may remember I had misgivings about my little home made antenna tuner. Well, since Wheel of Fortune I had a little time to further investigate and found the main problem. However, I also found that despite fixing it the match to the antenna still left a bit to be desired. Jeff VK2XD came to the party with a small commercial unit for me to try and boy did that work well in the back yard. So I set about connecting it up, hoping to repeat the performance. Imagine my horror when I discovered that the short interconnecting coax cable was missing from my bag. Hell, without it we weren’t going to get on air. I found that problem right after I self spotted on the SOTA website saying I was almost operational. (I use the Rucksack Radio Tool App for this) I mean I couldn’t even use a bit of fencing wire to fix this problem! OK, so, did I have a spare back int he vehicle? I hoped so and set off to see. About ten minutes later I was back with the required cable – phew! that was a relief. It would have been a very embarrassing moment if we had to leave without at least fulfilling one of the goals – the main one! Note to self – Use a checklist the night before and put the spare back in the car.
Finally at about 10.30 am (2333 UTC) I put out the first call and Ed VK2JI on the central coast boomed back in to me with a 5×8 signal. From then on and through the next 16 contacts I knew the tuner and antenna combination were working a treat. A quite memorable contact was down to Perrin VK3XPT who was portable in his backyard in Melbourne running on a portable magnetic loop. I have worked Perrin before from home using a digital mode on 2M from home (WSPR) and have heard him running 20mW so it was great to work him again using flea power on HF and I even managed to work Paul VK5PAS just outside Adelaide – a distance of nearly 800km, all on just 5Watts of power. I told Paul I hadn’t seen any signs of wombat poo on the rocks up here. He was quite intrigued by that observation which I made and told him about during a contact with him on a SOTA activation earlier in the year and we often laugh about it now. He had seen plenty of wombats but no poo on rocks. If you don’t believe they do poo on rocks, check out anywhere in Womargama Nat Park and its also common right throughout Kosciusko Nat Park. But I digress.
After waiting for the UTC day rollover at 11am I then went on and worked some of the same guys again as they get double chaser points and when I had exhausted them it was time to try some higher bands to see what else was on offer. I quickly tuned up to 10.135 Mhz and put out a call and was immediately rewarded with better signal reports from Ed VK2JI, Perrin VK3XPT and Bernard VK3AMB. After again exhausting contacts here I changed up to 14Mz without success noting that VK6MB was listening for me. That would have been fun …flea power into Western Australia. Finally, there is a challenge on making contacts on 24Mhz so we switched up there and put out some calls but without success. So at about 11.20 we packed up and headed back to the car and then drove up to VK2RBE to check on the batteries. It was very gratifying to see that the batteries were in exactly the condition we left them in six months before so it looks like we may have fixed THAT problem. Footnote – Mike VK6MB did hear me faintly on 24Mhz but no contact.
Then it was back down the hill. Did I mention I like this drive? The troopy just slowly picked its way down the hill in 2nd and 1st low range. One of the nice things about Bethungra village is the Old School House coffee shop. I can thoroughly recommend it for its coffee, food and delightful owners. So, (plug, plug) if you are planning a run up the Olympic way time it to drop in here, you wont be disappointed.
OK, now I am happy with the portable setup but will re-visit my little tuner now I know I can get the antenna to match very well. In fact it seems to match every band from 40m and up.
Not sure of my next summit but I am thinking Mt Burngoogee which could also end up being a full day and maybe into the evening but thats for another story.