11 October 2015

19. SOTA Activation: Tidbinbilla Mountain VK1/AC-013

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve lies to the South West of Canberra. I’ve been there a few times before for short walks and taking family to look at Koalas in the Koala enclosure. When I looked at the SOTA Maps database, I saw that Tidbinbilla Mountain had not yet been activated, so I thought I may go and do that. I wasn’t too keen to scrub bash to the top alone, it’s always better to go with company, so in preparation for a later attempt I thought I might go and have a look at the peak to identify the best approach. As a back-up “in case”, I packed my radio gear in my bag as well: it would be a shame not to have it available if the ascent prove to be easier than anticipated.

I set out on Saturday 10 October just after 07:00 and parked at Mountain Creek Car park just after 08:00. The Tidbinbilla access booms were up so I had no trouble getting in to the reserve.
My plan was to base my recon on GPX files from John Evans (Link). First I would look at a direct approach, via the South East, starting with the Lyre Bird trail, then traveling up the ridge line.
I only wanted to see how dense the bush was on this side, before I would go back down to Mountain Creek Car Park and take the Camels Hump Trail up for a bit to see what that approach was like.

It was a beautiful, crisp morning. The fresh smell of the bush was beautiful, it’s difficult to describe but it is just perfect. I wish I could bottle that and have it around all the time!

On my way to the Lyrebird Trail

I took the Lyrebird trail and in no time I stood next to the point where I thought I might break away from the trail at some future date when I would take on Tidbinbilla Mountain. The problem was… there was little scrub to observe. It was very open and easy to travel over, so thinking that this could not be representative of the whole ascent I decided to head into the bush for about 100 or 200 meters, just to take a look.

Nice walking track up the ridge line to Snowy Corner

I headed uphill, but the first 100 meters or so didn’t bring any thick scrub. Following along John Evans’ GPX track, I also stumbled onto a walking trail, straight as an arrow up the ridge line. I learned later from Andrew VK1NAM that he read about such a trail, and that it was well traveled up to the bush fires in 2003. The track may not have seen frequent use recently but it was still very easy to make out and it was marked intermittently by either rock cairns or by yellow bands tied around thin saplings.

Having found the trail and not encountering much scrub, I decided to push on for an hour or so to see what conditions were further uphill, before I’d turn around. At this point I got in contact with Andrew VK1NAM via the Ginini repeater and told him about the track I had found. He explained that the he had read about it and that the yellow bands were most likely left by John Evans during an earlier ascent. I informed him of my intent to go for another hour or so before turning around, and he offered to listen out on Ginini for my report.

Gradually the trail got steeper, the terrain a mixture of small saplings, low fern, a few logs and rocks. At one spot I ran into a few thorny little bushes, reaching up to my shoulders. Nasty little plants, I am glad that is all I saw of them. Most of the walking so far had been under tree cover, but after a short and steep ascent I found myself in a clearing with the first hint at the views still too come. A varied on a bit further up the track and found that a very kind soul had carried a little bench uphill and left it there, for everyone to enjoy. I sat down and enjoyed the view across Tidbinbilla Valley.

Best perch ever, left on the trail by a kind soul.

Sitting here, and making good progress, I thought I might continue uphill some more too see what conditions were like where John Evans’ track makes a 90 degree turn to the North North East. So far the track has steadily been going in a direction slightly North of West North West (302 degrees true). I thought this point would reveal the nature of the beast and that the track would run out at this point.

Sure enough, even before this point I started running into wattle regrowth, although the walking track made it no trouble at all. The wattle regrowth reached up between 1.5 to 3.5 meters at certain places. The rock cairns and yellow bands still marked the trail and despite the regrowth it was easy to follow.

Wattle regrowth made much easier by the trail.

The climb got pretty steep at places but there were always small saplings at hand for pulling up on. Right at the top of the climb I found a fairly big cairn, probably marking the top of that ridge and this looked like the spot where John Evans’ track turned 90 degrees right. This was also the end of the steep climb: the terrain flattened out considerably. It was also the end of the trail. This is where I planned to turn around. In a small clearing I could make out Tidbinbilla Mountain’s summit for the first time and although it was still a substantial climb, it was much closer than before.

I decided to go for the summit, it was only 11:30 and I had daylight to about 19:30. Andrew VK1NAM called me over the Ginini repeater and I told him I am going to go for the summit. Right off the bat progress got slower. The wattle scrub gave way again to taller saplings and these were much denser than before. The easiest path was to rock hop right on the ridge line, at least the trees couldn’t grow on rocks!

Boulder Highway leading through the scrub.

After about 30 minutes of scrub bashing and rock hopping, I found the biggest clearing so far. Probably about 50 meters wide by 80 meters long of short yellow grass and a few small shrubs. This spot would be an ideal place to retreat to if you ever ran into trouble on the hill. A helicopter would be able to land without too much trouble, even though there is a bit of a slope, it is no more than about 5% to 10%. From the clearing I could clearly see Tidbinbilla Mountain, and also that there were no more clearings between here and the summit. Scrub bashing all the way. I tightened the backpack straps and set off.

Nice big clearing with the summit behind it.

Just after entering the bush again I ran into a vertical rock wall with a small channel that I could scramble up. At the base there were a pile of rocks that weren’t super stable so scrambled up as quick as I could.

Rock Wall

After another 15 minutes the growth got shorter and after scrambling up a few rocks I was at the top. It was hard work but definitely worth it. Killer views all round. I let rip a whoop of joy and took my pack off, unfurled the Tape Measure Beam and connected it to the Baofeng UV-5R handheld. I was ready to activate. As I reached for my logbook I saw that my Tidbinbilla shack was being overrun by legions of small black ants and relocated to another rock - where they followed…

The Summit Cairn!! If you can't see it look for the white pile of rocks between two bushes on the horizon.
In the back of my mind was the “possible thundershowers in the late afternoon” and I could see a cell moving towards Cotter Hill, 6 or 7 Km to the North. I was going to try and be as quick as possible and then get out of there.

Contacts Made

About 15 minutes before I reached the summit, Al VK1RX who was on Webs Ridge announced that he was busy packing up and needed to get off Webs Ridge because there was rain on the way and the fire trails could be pretty slippery even at the best of times. Al stuck around on the summit when I told him I would be at the top soon, so my first contact was with Al. An easy 5/9 both ways. Thanks for hanging around on the summit Al!

Next I worked Ian VK1DI and when I could receive a whole transmission it was an easy 5/9 again, in both directions. Something strange was going on - even though I wasn’t moving around, and beaming straight to Woden Towers, I often lost whole chunks of Ian’s overs. There was a ridge (I think it is Tidbinbilla Peak) between me and parts of canberra and that may have played a part in scattering the signal.

Tidbinbilla Peak with the white dot of Woden Towers next to the summit on the right.

After Ian,  I worked Matt VK1MA and that too was an easy 5/9+ both ways. At one point Matt said the meter peaked at 5/9 + 60db - I must have had a nice unobstructed line of sight to him.

To qualify the summit activation, my forth call was with Andrew VK1NAM from his QTH in Lyons. This is close to the Woden Tower and I beamed through the notch between the two peaks of Tidbinbilla Peak. This was an easy 5/9+ copy. Andrew told me that Grant VK4JAZ and Tony VK1VIC was also trying to make a contact with me, so I tried to call Grant.

At first I could hear nothing, then only small fragments. Mat VK1MA suggested I try the rubber ducky antenna to rule out coax issues so I swapped to the Baofeng’s rubber ducky antenna but the results were the same. I could not copy Grant. Andrew VK1NAM came back and informed me that he could hear Grant saying that he could read me. I walked around the summit trying to find a better spot but it was no good.

I called Tony VK1VIC a few times and then managed to have a complete contact with him. We exchanged a 5/3 from me to Tony and 5/9 from Tony to me. The better spot turned out to be flat on my stomach on a rock - the only place where I could hear Tony from.

At the end of my over with Tony I could hear Grant’s “VK4JAZ” clearly. Grant had gone up halfway Mount Ainslie for the contact and his signal was now getting out to me. I could easily make out Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie from Tidbinbilla Mountain. We exchanged a 5/8 from me to Grant and a 5/6 from Grant to me.

I could hear rumbles behind me and I felt the wind rush towards the low pressure cell opposite the valley. It was time to pack up.

Time to pack up...

After putting everything away Matt VK1MA told me that Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH was in the shack and trying to make contact. We tried for about 3/4 minutes, horizontal, vertical and me moving around the summit. Andrew could hear me, Matt told me, but I just couldn’t hear him.

I clipped on the HT to my pack, started the GPS and headed downhill towards Tidbinbilla Peak and Camels Hump, in the opposite direction that I had come from.

Summary of Contacts

Thank you Al, Ian, Matt, Andrew, Tony and Grant for every contact!

The Way Down

I chose to come down in the opposite direction I had come up, in the direction of Camels Hump, because I thought that way intersected pretty early on with the Camels Hump trail. As basis for navigation I used another of John Evans’ GPX tracks. It went via Tidbinbilla Peak and then turned South East along the ridge line until it intersected with the Camels Hump Fire Trail. The first part wasn’t too bad with fairly open parts, mixed with some light scrub bashing. Here and there I could follow John Evans’ trail and that made the scrub much easier. The track followed the ridge line to Tidbinbilla Peak so there was quite bit of rock hopping between the scrub bashing. At some points the scrub was just ridiculously dense - it stopped me in my tracks and I had to heave forward to get moving again.

The next stand of scrub awaits!

Every clearing rewarded the hard work with beautiful views on both sides of the ridge. Good news too about the weather: the storm cell was well-behaved and stayed north of me all the time during my descent. A highlight was definitely the two Wedgetail Eagles that popped in for a quick “Hallo”. They were no more than 10 meters away from me at times, hovering above me in the breeze coming off the ridge. At one point I was convinced I heard a horse but that could just be my imagination - I don’t think there are any Brumbies in Tidbinbilla.

Coming down from Tidbinbilla Peak, the view towards Camels Hump.

The trek down was tedious stuff. I went super slow as there was no track to follow and I wanted to stay on John Evans’ track as per his GPX file - they made it out alive after all! ;-)
At one point on the hill I ran into more thick stands of  saplings. Where they had been benign coming up Tidbinbilla Mountain, now they were positively feral. The stands were so thick that my backpack and beam snagged at every step. Usually on these treks I carry gloves to fend of the scrub but since this was intended as a “quick recon” I didn’t have those with me. Imagine being surrounded by a forest of small saplings, trunk diameter about 20mm. They press against your body on every side so that you have to push them aside firmly to take a step. They do not bend as readily as the Wattle scrub. At one point I shook my backpack loose and continued downward. Only later when I reached the fire trail did I realise that the shaking had opened my backpack such that I lost my new DX Wire squid pole. Not happy Jan.

A few times Andrew VK1NAM called in to check on my progress. Instead of waiting to catch my breath, I immediately responded on the HT. This made my transmissions hard to copy. Note to self: Don’t respond immediately but first catch your breath!

Fire Trail.. You beauty!

Once I reached the fire trail it was like a 6-lane highway. I stormed the last 1.8 Km in about 26 minutes.  To cap the day off, as I rounded a corner of the fire trail, I saw a dark bird dash across the trail. Its body about 1 meter in length as it stretched its legs to get across, followed by its tail, about the same length as its body. It looked like the tail was striped. Superb Male Lyrebird. Beautiful. The perfect end to the day.

When I got to the car, I ripped off my shoes - my feet were knackered! I drank down the extra liter of water I keep in the car, had a handful of nuts and hit the road.

It was a hard trip, especially the return via Tidbinbilla Peak and Camels’ hump “track”. Although the Southern Ascent via Lyrebird trail, the ridge line trail and Snowy’s Corner is very steep at places, I think that route is the better one of the two. There are some scrub and rock hopping but for most of the time you have a clear trail. This is how I would come up and down next time.

Special Permissions or Arrangements

No special arrangements are necessary. All access is via public roads. Drive towards the South of Canberra on the Tuggeranong Parkway, go across the Point Hut Crossing and turn right at Tidbinbilla road. Tidbinbilla is on the left after a few Km.
Tidbinbilla Mountain is located in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, VKFF-0989.

Summit Information

Tidbinbilla Mountain’s summit is 1605 meters above mean sea level and it is worth 6 SOTA activation points, plus a 3 point winter bonus. Its Maidenhead locator is QF44kn.
The summit consists of white rock slabs and small shrubs. There is only one gum sapling but it will be able to hold up a squid pole.
Tidbinbilla Mountain is within easy reach of the Mt. Ginini repeater.

Note about the SOTA Mapping Project’s summit name:
On the SOTAMAPS.ORG website, the coordinates for VK1/AC-013 refers to the location of Tidbinbilla Mountain but use the name “Tidbinbilla Peak”. VK1AC/013 is identified as Tidbinbilla Mountain on the NSW LPMA Tidbinbilla Map. Both OzTopo and the LPMA Map identifies a second, lower hill as Tidbinbilla Peak, its summit height is given as 1561 and 1562 meters respectively by LPMA and OzTopo. It looks like the SOTAMAPS entry for Tidbinbilla Mountain was accidentally named Tidbinbilla Peak.

Equipment Used

Baofeng UV-5R, internal battery, rubber ducky antenna and my VHF Tape Measure Yagi.
On the way up and down the tape measure yagi took a beating. The scrub folded the elements back on itself (even though it was already folded down in travelling position, strapped down with velcro straps and inside two old socks), permanently deforming the antenna’s spring steel elements.

Useful Links

GPS GPX Track Log: Dropbox Link.


VK1NAM said...

Congratulations Adan, you turned a recon into a full-blown SOTA activation of Tidbinbilla Mountain. Wow 5 hours to the summit! Just downloaded the GPS track logs. Were the Nature Park gates open when you got back to the park entrance boom gate?

AdanVK1 said...

Hi Andrew, yep the gates were up. Upon entry in the morning, I noticed signs saying Tidbinbilla was open until 8 PM. Five hours, I think it was six! I was also surprised at how long it took. I took it real easy. I had a look at John Evans' track - it says 3 hours but show the distance as 3.7 Km whereas my track came out at 6.5 Km...don't know how to explain the difference in track length.