Mt Solitary activation 30 Dec 2015

The SOTA peak at Mt Solitary VK2/CT-056 in the Blue Mountains National Park VKFF-0041 had been on my to-do list most of 2015. I’d resolved not to attempt it in winter to ensure adequate daylight and to make it a comfortable climb. Last time (and first time) I did this walk I ended up having to walk back in the dark which was “different” but not as much fun. I’d hoped to tackle this one with Phil VK2JDL, but as it turned out he was busy on the last possible day of the year it could be done.

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Walking path to Mt Solitary starting at the Golden Staircase

The starting point for the walk is at the top of the Golden Staircase (-33.734348, 150.28237) at elevation 958m which can be found on Glen Raphael Drive along Narrow Neck just west of Katoomba. Descend the Golden Staircase (about 800m) passing Botleys Lookout until the Federal Pass circuit track is reached. Turn right (south) and gently descend by 300m elevation reaching the 4.3km mark. From then on it is an ascent of 300m over 1.8km including a lot of hard climbing and scrambling to reach the summit (-33.7797, 150.3079) QF56DF at elevation 960m. I budgeted two to two and a half hours to do the 6.1km walk, but walking quickly without stopping to take any photos it took one and a half hours. The National Parks site provides all route details and it is also well covered on Wild Walks. The alternative and longer route is to start at Scenic World, descend the Furber Steps and join the Federal Pass circuit there. It adds another 3 km onto the trip. Some of that can be saved by descending using the Scenic Railway instead of the Furber Steps. Details of this alternative can also be found on Wild Walks.

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Elevation profile from Golden Staircase (958m) to Mt Solitary (960m) with minimum elevation of 658m

The summit itself is quite a flat area covered with tall trees. This gives a large activation zone and there are plenty of places to put up an antenna. The main consideration is making sure it is clear overhead so that the antenna wire is not obstructed. I found a convenient stump to use as a support for the squid pole. Knowing the difficulty of the walk, I brought along a lightweight 8m pole and removed all extraneous items from my backpack. The pole was able to be inserted into a pocket on the backpack so I had both hands free – and this turned out to be essential during the climb. Conveniently, I had arrived and set up 15 minutes before UTC rollover whereas my alert was for thirty minutes past. There were SOTA stations already active so plenty of scope for summit-to-summit contacts.

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The first object was to work all the activators and I managed four before rollover – all on 40m. Then after rollover hunted for the same activators again. I was calling VK3HRA on his spotted frequency 7032 CW when Nick VK2AOH called me. Somehow I had missed Allen. A whole bunch of activators were spotting on 10m so I went there to look for them. I did manage one S2S with Andrew VK1AD at Mt Taylor in Canberra. All the other summits were too far for ground wave and too close for sky wave. Then I put my first spot up on 10m SSB and that attracted a couple of contacts in VK5, one in VK4 and one in Sydney from VK2BEN. After an hour on 10m I spotted on 6m SSB and attracted 2 stations from Sydney – Cliff VK2NP and VK2BEN again. I had heard Andrew VK1AD work a VK4 at good strength on 6m but Andrew’s signal faded quickly. Unfortunately I was not able to work the VK4. During some free time I put up a “selfie” of my activation on social media. This attracted a certain amount of attention and comment and made for a talking point during contacts. At some stage I’d like to try sending pictures via SSTV from the summit as thus far I’ve only received SSTV from summits in the shack.

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Shack and operator on Mt Solitary

After 20 minutes a spot came up on 40m so I abandoned 6m and chased a bunch of activators (VK3MCD, VK2QR, VK1VIC, VK3VTH). I spotted on 10m SSB again and started calling then a spot came up for Greg VK2GSB at VK2/HU-094 who was doing his first activation near Port Stephens in Myall Lakes NP. I was the first contact in his log and it must have been a surprise as it was a summit-to-summit as well as a park-to-park contact.

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Back on 10m I made a bunch more contacts over the next hour with the occasional excursion to other bands to work other summit stations. 10m was in good shape as I was able to make contact with chasers in Melbourne at good strength. This represented quite short skip conditions on this band. Next was a go at 10m CW and this was rewarded with 3 contacts from Melbourne stations with excellent reports.

After half an hour on 10m CW it was late enough to give 40m CW a try too and five contacts were made. Then I moved to 40m SSB and filled a page full of contacts over the next hour. This included two S2S contacts. The sun had moved around and now my spot under the trees was in full sun so the shack was relocated a few metres for complete shade.

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With one hour to go to my planned departure time of 6pm I went back to 10m SSB and started calling there. One contact was made with VK2FJPR in Newcastle who I had worked on 40m and mentioned a possibility of 10m. He was pretty surprised to be able to make a contact and we exchanged 5×3 reports both ways. The good propagation to Melbourne had gone and no other 10m contacts were made. I contacted Rod VK2TWR to try for a 6m contact, but he wasn’t able to hear me so we made it on 40m instead.

A spot by Lewis VK6FLEW on 40m attracted a QSY, but Lewis was operating on 7.144 and the afternoon net on 7.146 prevented any copy. It was then time to close down after operating for 7 hours. My 4200 mAh battery was just about exhausted and the KX3 kept switching off. It was a longer activation than expected and I was restless to complete the return journey. Last time I had done it mostly in the dark and had not planned to do that again this time, after all I had photos to take! One of the concessions when reducing weight was to eliminate cameras from my backpack. The DSLR weighs around 3kg and had to go. I even rejected the compact camera with the intention of relying on the rarely used mobile phone camera. That’s the mark of a lightweight activation!

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One of the many camp sites along the Federal Pass

My Android-based mobile phone has an aftermarket high capacity battery, but before I started the return walk it was down to around 30% capacity. During the day I was running RRT, ParksnPeaks and Port-a-Log apps at various times, and usually multiple simultaneously. This no doubt would have required additional internet traffic (and therefore battery consumption). Luckily mobile phone coverage was good with few dropouts. For the first time on an activation I had used RunKeeper to record my progress on the walk so the GPS was running during this time. On the return walk I also used RunKeeper and so was able to obtain an elevation profile for the day’s outing.

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Glimpse of the Three Sisters through the trees

The return walk was a lot more difficult than the morning walk even though I had had plenty of recovery time. I doubt the endorphins were flowing like they are when you’re striving to reach a summit. Luckily I had plenty of rests to take photos. Descending from Mt Solitary I ran into some people who were about to launch a toy drone. As I continued further the drone appeared in the skies above along with the characteristic buzz. It seemed to follow me for quite a way and my thoughts were that the country was quite inhospitable in the event that a drone recovery was required, though it seems that was not necessary. I had bypassed the sidetrip to the “Ruined Castle” on the way in and did the same on the way out. Its another steep climb and would add time to the trip.

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The most difficult part of the trip was the return climb up The Golden Staircase. The track is well formed unlike the last section up Mt Solitary, but it is so steep with metal railings and for such a long distance that it is pretty difficult at the end of a long day with not much left in the tank. There are some nice glimpses of the Three Sisters along the way, especially from Botleys Lookout near the top.

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I arrived back at the carpark just as the sun was setting so timing was perfect. After taking time to watch the sun go down, take photos and rehydrate, I did some chasing for the EU activators. Even on CW it was not possible to work any of them due to low signal strength so after half an hour I was on my way.

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Greeted by a stunning sunset climbing to the top of the Golden Staircase

Highlights

  • Making it to (and from) the summit
  • Stunning views of the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters
  • Fabulous sunny weather all day with light breezes
  • 67 contacts on 40m, 30m, 10m, 6m including 9 CW  on 40m, 10m
  • 17 summit-to-summits
  • 13 park-to-parks
  • First documented activation of this summit
  • 18 contacts on 10m/6m including JA DX

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 transceiver
  • One LiFePO4 4200 mAh battery
  • uniHAM UNI-730A CW paddle
  • ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet (28m long)
  • 8m lightweight mast
  • Earbuds stereo headphone

Log

Many thanks to the following stations for making contact:
VK3HRA/P VK1VIC/2 VK1AD/P VK3PF/P VK2YK VK1VIC/2 VK3PF/P VK1AD/P VK4RF VK4HA VK1DI/P VK2AOH VK1AD/P VK5WG VK4MNM VK5NRG VK2BEN VK2NP VK2BEN VK3MCD/2 VK2QR/P VK1VIC/2 VK3VTH/5 VK2GSB/P JH7RTQ VK7CW JL1RUC VK7FRKL VK1MA/3 VK3PF/P VK3YUN VK3HRA/P VK3ZPF VK3CAT VK3AFW VK3ANL VK2AOH VK1EM VK3PF/M VK3BYD VK1CT VK3UH VK1AT VK3FQSO VK3YAR VK3ES VK3NBL VK3LED VK2PHA VK1DW VK3AWG VK3AV VK2NN VK3CRG VK2YK VK3ARR/P VK2VW VK2GAZ VK3DAC VK2ZZM VK2FJPR VK2JDC VK2YW VK3HRA/P VK3PMG VK2FJPR VK2TWR

Leg recovery after the walk took a few days.
Will I activate this one again?
You betcha!

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