Two ‘Uniques’ – one day!

What the hell are ‘uniques’ I hear you ask? Well, ‘uniques’ are summits that have not been activated before …in other words, hills/mountains in the Summits on the Air program that no-one has ever operated from. And that’s exactly what Bernard VK2IB, Jeff VK2XD and I did last Sunday. The plan initially was to try for three summits in the one day – not impossible by any stretch of the imagination but looking at a ‘topo’ map and planning an outing is one thing; actually pulling it off is another and in that we failed. Not dismally but failed just the same. Two of the three mountains we planned have no tracks up to them and despite them only being around 1km or so from the main track they took around an hour plus to ascend and we certainly hadn’t planned on that and in fact made it all but impossible to do the last one even though we actually drove over it on the way out. So as Meatloaf once said, “2 ‘outa’ 3 ain’t bad!”

These mountains are in an area reasonably close to home and with which as an area I am fast becoming enamored with. This is Womargama National Park. The park is located just to the east of the tiny village of Womargama which up until the Hume highway was duplicated actually ran through the village. It is situated to the north of Albury by about 40km and just south of Holbrook – famous for its very large submarine. Did I mention they have a great bakery? Anyway back to the national park. To the south is the Murray river and the park extends about 30km from west to east and 15km north to south. It measures in size at around 240 sq km and is the largest protected area of forest west of the Great Dividing Range. It is also home to nine SOTA peaks – some relatively close to the road and others, well, let’s say they are a little more remote. In the past I have driven up Mt Jingellic and have walked up Mt Tipperary – both of which are in the park so completing just two today means I am nearly half way through.

John and Bernard operating on ri-008

Bernard VK2IB making his contacts on my station

We could not have planned for better weather. It was a perfect late autumn day although we struck some quite thick fog as we entered the park but that soon burnt off revealing a clear blue sky. Jeff VK2XD and myself left Wagga just after 7am and arrived at the southern Holbrook bakery at about 8am where we managed a coffee and bun while we waited for Bernard to arrive. Once he had downed his coffee we set off down the Jingellic road and were soon in the park. Finding the first starting point was easy – I counted 4 GPS systems in my vehicle alone – navigation items we were not short of! The first summit was an as yet unnamed mountain known on the database as VK2/RI-008 at 827m ASL. We both found suitable places to pull off Tin Mines Trail and then put our packs on, set the GPS course and off we went. According to my GPS that was at 10.20am and from 627m ASL. The going soon got quite tough with a lot of quite thick, low vegetation which quickly reduced both visibility and our speed. Navigating in this country with just map and compass would be OK but would take a lot more concentration. With a small GPS such as my Etrex-10 it becomes much easier, allowing more concentration on where your next step will be made. Of course you are going up hill so its difficult to stray too far from the objective :-). We arrived in the activation zone (an area within 25 vertical metres of the actual summit) where we found a suitable clearing to erect antennas. Operating from the actual top of the peak looked to be very difficult with no openings in the tree canopy and a lot of thick undergrowth. The radio plan was to run two stations simultaneously with Bernard trying for 52Mhz and 28Mhz to gain points in this year’s challenge. I activated my station on 7Mhz and soon had more than enough contacts to gain the activation points. Bernard on the other hand could only raise one contact on 28Mhz and came over to operate my station to gain the rest of his required contacts. It had taken us 40 minutes to do the climb plus a further hour of operating making it now after noon. We were already now an hour behind our main plan and not back at the vehicles. The descent took around much the same time as it took to climb which should give you some idea how steep it was.

As soon as we had finished lunch it was back in the vehicles and off to VK2/RI-007. This summit seems to have two names – Mt Pleasant and Narra Narra. This summit is about 10km west of the first one and is higher at 862m ASL. It is visible in the sunset photo at the top. We found suitable parking spots for the vehicles and again loaded up. Jeff decided to sit this one out so Bernard and I set off together at about 10 past 2. It soon became apparent to me that the undergrowth was much thicker and the climb much steeper taking almost a full hour. From a physical point of view this was a very hard climb and we were both puffing and sweating profusely by the time we reached the top having to take numerous stops to catch our breath. There was an Edmond Hilary moment when we got to the top! The undergrowth was fairly sparse on the summit although not a lot of clear space through the tree canopy. We set up the station very close to the Trig point and because we were now well behind time Bernard and I decided to operate one station and just do 7Mhz. Being late in the afternoon there wasn’t the number of chasers we had in the morning so once we had exhausted the supply it was pack up time and soon we were heading back down. Once we got to the top I was pretty sure we had crossed a very old formed track. I was keen to try to follow it on the way back. It would have been a great 4wd trip in its day as it literally goes straight up and we guess from the small amount of dated graffiti on the trig point that this track might have been made in the early 1970’s when a new trig point was erected. From the stone evidence lying around, I imagine the track was  made to take the new trig point and the workers up to the top. After about 500m of descent it was impossible to see where the track went and so we continued on making our way now back as close as we could to our ascent track. Now if you had read some of my previous blogs you may remember I am prone to falling over on these treks. But for some reason I had not taken a tumble at all on this trip, that is until about 250m short of the vehicles I managed to fall over two largish sticks that just happened to be crossed in such a way that they held my left foot tight and down I went. That was ok, the ground was soft and broke my fall so I was soon up and away again. It wasn’t until I got back I discovered I had lost my beloved Leatherman multi tool from my belt. My guess is that when I fell, the buckle on my pant’s belt came apart allowing the tool to fall off. Examination of the GPS track indicates exactly where that point was so I am going to return shortly to see if I can find it. My chances are good and it may be a chance to activate the summit we missed. The descent was a good 40 minutes and we got back to the vehicles at around 10 to 5 with the light now starting to fade.

We headed off and stopped up at North’s Lookout on Mt Jergyle for some photos of the sunset and then back in the cars to head for home. This is VK2/RI-004 – the summit we were going to miss this time and is the image at the top of the blog. We still had a further 12km or so before we were back on bitumen and so the majority of this part of the trip was done in the dark. Aside from one wallaby I was very pleased and relieved that I didn’t see any other wild life on the way out.

We arrived back in Wagga Wagga around 7pm, making it a long but very rewarding day. After doing my logs I find I am now some 947 points short of my Mountain Goat award having added just 8 points for today’s effort. I think I am going to be a long time in the making of ‘Goathood’!

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