SOTA – Mt Ritchie – Deadly Reptiles!

Monday 26 December 2016, Boxing Day public holiday.  I’m in Melbourne (VK3) for a family Christmas gathering. Today I have a leave-pass from the Boxing Day shopping chaos which my wife and my sister consider to be more entertaining than a 14 km trail hike in temperatures of 30 to 32 degrees C.  Personally I find a walk in the Australian bush far more satisfying than a day in an overcrowded Bourke Street shopping mall, moving on…

Two years ago I set my sights on Mt Ritchie in the Yarra Ranges National Park.  During visits to my family in December 2014 and 2015 the days I had planned to activate Mt Ritchie turned out to be total fire ban days, known locally as severe fire warning days.  By way of explanation VK SOTA activators follow a voluntary code of not venturing in to the Aussie scrub on days declared by the Bureau of Meteorology as a total fire ban day whether they be severe or worse catastrophic fire warning days.  Seriously, why put yourself in harm’s way and potentially put others in danger too?   Besides following a voluntary code, in most jurisdictions National and State Parks are closed on days of high fire danger meaning the entry to such parks is illegal during a declared fire ban day.

With two aborted activations under my belt I was confident today’s plans would not be circumvented by a third fire warning day, the alternative, a day shopping with the XYL looked worse!  Earlier in the week the forecast for today was 33 degrees C. Yesterday the revised forecast was 32 degrees C (89.6 F) but with the chance of storms and lightning strikes around the Yarra Ranges, just what I don’t fancy being a lightning conductor!  Come on SOTA Gods give me a break..

This morning before leaving home I checked the CFA and Emergency Victoria websites for information on fire warnings and National or State Park closures.  All clear!   I’m carrying ample food and 2 litres of water and I have an extra 5 litres in the car.

I left my sister’s home at 7 am arriving at the intersection of the Acheron Way and Road 15 at 08:05 am, a 65 minute drive, traffic was light.

Mt Ritchie VK3/VC-003 1255 metres ASL, Yarra Ranges National Park VKFF-0556

The weird and wonderful height bands for different VK SOTA Associations.   In VK3 Mt Ritchie at 1255 metres (4117 feet) ASL is an eight (8) point summit while in VK1 Mt Tennent VK1/AC-025 at 1384 metres ASL is a four (4) point summit and Mount Naas VK1/AC-029 at 1250 metres ASL, only 5 metres shorter than Mt Ritchie is a two (2) point summit.  Don’t try to make sense of it, it will do your head in!    🙂

To the summit walk.   The ascent starting from the Acheron Way, following Road 15 then Road 10 is 548 vertical metres (1800 ft) over 7.5 km (4.6 miles) taking 2 hours and 10 minutes.  The descent duration was quicker at an expected 1 hour and 40 minutes.  😉

Mt Ritchie GPS track log overlay on Oz Topo

Mt Ritchie GPS track log overlay on Oz Topo

Mt Ritchie track profile

Mt Ritchie track profile

Mt Ritchie track profile

A small water dam is a feature within the SOTA AZ

last 300 metres

last 300 metres

Photos: © Copyright 2016 Andrew VK1AD

Pictures of my adventure starting from the Acheron River passing under the Acheron Way

Acheron River flowing under the Acheron Way road

Acheron River flowing under the Acheron Way gravel road

Locked gate at the start of Road 15

Locked gate at the start of Road 15

1st km

1st km along Road 15

2 km, Intersection of Road 15 and Road 10. Turn left on to Road 10.

2.2 km, Intersection of Road 15 and Road 10. Turn left on to Road 10.  The water sign pointing back along Road 15 is useful however for walkers or fire fighters approaching the sign from Road 10 it doesn’t show how far you have to travel to find water?

beautiful majestic eucalypt giants

On Road 10, beautiful majestic eucalypt giants.  Winds are strong keeping the ambient temperature down to a conformable 26 degrees C (78 F)

Road 10, 1 km to the summit

Road 10 distance marker. Checking my Garmin 64S the marker is very close to 1 km from the summit.


Riding a bike along this trail would speed up the journey

Next I was somewhat surprised to find a shallow dam within the AZ.  This feature is not mentioned in earlier activator’s blogs.  As I approached the dam I thought to myself this is a likely haven for snakes.

small dam 200 metres south of the summit. This is snake territory!

Small dam 200 metres south of the summit.  The dam is teaming with frogs, this is snake territory!

50 metres further on from the dam surprise a Copperhead snake!  The Copperhead is Australia’s 7th most venomous snake, whose venom is capable of killing an adult human.  The snake kept still and a watching eye on me as I manoeuvred my way around the rear of the snake

200 metres to the summit, I am surprised to find a Copperhead snake on the trail.

200 metres to the summit, I was somewhat surprised to find a 1.5 metre Copperhead snake on the trail.  I shouldn’t be given the proximity of the snake to the dam.

Copperhead snake close up. I left the snake in peace.

Copperhead snake close up. I left the snake in peace to search the nearby dam for a meal of frogs and tadpoles.  Copperhead snakes are excellent swimmers.

At the summit, checking out the grassy field for snakes!

Convenient signpost to support my 7m telescopic pole

Convenient signpost to support my 7m telescopic pole

My SOTA station equipment:  FT-817ND set to 5 watts output powered by a 2.2 Ah 3S LiPo battery.  Antenna is a homebrew linked EFHW Inverted V for 21.300, 18.140, 14.310, 10.130 an 7.090 MHz.  For 2m 144 to 148 MHz my antenna is a homebrew 2m SlimJim made with heavy duty 300 ohm ladder line.

VK1AD SOTA shack at Mt Ritchie

VK1AD SOTA shack at Mt Ritchie, no snakes nearby!

EFHW impedance match circuit

Homebrew EFHW impedance match circuit.  You can see a 6.8 meter non-resonant wire counterpoise for bands other than 15m.


FT-817 combined with a DYC-8×7 dynamic voice compression kit inserted between the radio and the standard Yaesu microphone.

2m SlimJim antenna handing from a tree branch

2m SlimJim antenna hanging from a tree branch.  I use a 16 ounce throwing weight attached to 15 metres of 3mm blind-cord.

First SOTA chaser on 144.2 MHz USB was David VK3IL operating portable from Phillip Island 105 km south-west of Mt Ritchie.  David was using a KX3 with a 2m module at 2.5 watts output feeding a homebrew 2m SlimJim, a great result David for 2.5 watts and both of us using 2m SlimJim vertical antennas.  😉    This contact will feature in my VHF/UHF distance record page.   I called on 2m SSB for a further 10 minutes, no takers, where were the VK3 chasers on 2m SSB?

Post UTC day change now 26 Dec 16, I qualified the summit on 20m working John ZL1BYZ, Ian VK5IS, Jacky ZL1TZW and Bill VK5MBD.  🙂

Summit to Summit QSOs.  Andrew VK1MBE operating from Mt Ainslie in Canberra, Andrew VK1DA/2 operating from Mt Mundoonen near Yass and Nick VK3ANL/4 operating from Mt Ninderry on the Queensland South Coast.  Andrew VK1DA was conducting propagation experiments with two separate FT-817s.  Our first QSO signal reports were S56 R31 followed by S58 R31.  On each occasion my signal received Mt Mundoonen was 3-1 while Andrew’s signal improved by 2 S-points between 817 #1 and 817 #2.

My last QSO from Mt Ritchie was with Ron VK3AFW on 2m simplex 146.5 MHz FM, thanks Ron.  I had arranged to work Glenn VK3YY on 2m FM, unfortunately the mountainous terrain put an end to that arrangement.  😦

Extract from VK1AD SOTA Activator Log:  26 December 2016 – Mt Ritchie VK3/VC-003

Time Call Band Mode Notes
23:49z VK3IL/P 144MHz SSB David S52 R58 144.200, Phillip Island 105 km
00:02z ZL1BYZ 14MHz SSB John S59 R41
00:02z VK5IS 14MHz SSB Ian S59 R55
00:03z ZL1TZW 14MHz SSB Jacky S59 R41
00:06z VK5MBD 14MHz SSB Bill S58 R53
00:09z VK5WG 14MHz SSB Nev S55 R31
00:14z VK7CW 7MHz SSB Steve S59 R41
00:15z VK2GKA 7MHz SSB Karl S58 R53
00:17z VK5MBD 7MHz SSB Bill S59 R56
00:17z VK1MBE/P 7MHz SSB Andrew S2S VK1/AC-040 S53 R51
00:18z VK1DA/2 7MHz SSB Andrew S2S VK2/ST-053 S56 R31
00:22z VK1DA/2 7MHz SSB Andrew S2S VK2/ST-053 S58 R31 (changed radio)
00:25z VK5FANA 7MHz SSB Adrian S55 R53
00:50z VK3ANL/4 14MHz SSB Nick S2S VK4/SE-105 S51 R34 South Queensland
00:52z VK3EQ 14MHz SSB Rik S59 R56
00:53z ZL2AJ 14MHz SSB Warren S58 R31
01:00z VK3AFW 144MHz FM Ron S59 R45  146.5 FM  70 km

A view at ground level

summit surrounds

summit surrounds

Return journey

Hollowed out hardwood giant

Hollowed out hardwood giant


Descent along Road 15

Descent along Road 15, 1.5 km to my car.  A storm rain band is approaching the Yarra Ranges from the west.

17 thoughts on “SOTA – Mt Ritchie – Deadly Reptiles!

  1. Andrew, nice to see you finally conquered Ritchie. Have done it 3 times now in winter and have always enjoyed the stroll. Got quicker each time.
    First effort I fell off the gate on the return leg, must have looked like a stranded turtle! Had a big concrete bar through the middle, meaning could not go through or around it.
    I think the southern approach to the neighbouring MT Vinegar for 6 points is harder than Ritchie and it is about 4km return shorter!
    By comparison Nan, Allen and I worked hard for out 8 points on the Knobs. 5.7km, just under 3 hours, 651 metres ascent with full overnight packs in order to make The High Cone and then Mt. Clear

    • Thanks Chris, I recommend the walk to all bush walkers, it’s a beautiful part of Victoria. I hope to come back in 2017, perhaps in the winter months for the three point bonus.
      Andrew VK1AD

    • Hi Paul, I would like Mt Tennent VK1/AC-025 to be an 8 pointer. 130 metres taller than Ritchie with a 780 vertical metre climb over 7.3 km for only 4 points! For me, Mt Tennent is the summit by which all summits in VK are judged. Come to Canberra for a ‘Tennent’ experience. Happy New Year for 2017 and best wishes to you and your family for the festive season 🙂

      • Hi Andrew,

        You must remember that VK1 starts with a base altitude of about 600 m IIRC. Therefore, one could argue that Mt Tennent is effectively only “784 m” relative to the base HASL, thus really it should be worth 4 points compared to VK2 and VK3 summits…. I am sure that your AM could explain the system in more detail if required.

        Look at the bright side: Mt Tennent has the Winter bonus, whereas 4 pointers in VK2 and VK3 do not!


        Peter VK3PF

      • Hi Peter I know how the system works, I don’t believe it is fair when Livingston Hill just over the border in VK2 is valued at 6 points. As for having an AM who participates in any way shape or form well that’s joke! When did you last see Mr Brown promote SOTA in and around VK1? You will have trouble finding any form of comms from Mr Brown. As for the last VK1 update, I was the sole contributor, Mr Brown did zip, zilch, nothing. 👎

        Cheers, Andrew VK1AD

  2. Great write-up Andrew. It was good to work you on 2m SSB – it was actually my first 2m SSB contact on the KX3 and was pleasantly surprised that you were able to read me. My Slim JIM is only 300 ohm ribbon inside a piece of conduit on the roof of the beach house, so hardly optimal! Mainly useful for hitting the repeaters on Mt Dandenong.
    I will have to get out and activate Mt Ritchie myself, and looking at your photos, maybe taking a bike would be a good option.

    • Hi David, a bike will certainly reduce the time up and back. The section of Road 10 following on from the intersection of Road 15 and Road 10 is steep. At worst you will have to push the bike up 100 vertical metres over 1 km. The profile map will give you an idea of the gradient from 2.2 km through to 3.2 km, after that it’s smooth sailing to the summit. I will send you a copy of the GPS track log. 🙂

      Happy New Year for 2017!
      Andrew VK1AD

  3. Sounds like a fun afternoon, Andrew. I’m a relatively new Ham, what is the role of the DYC-8×7 dynamic voice compression kit inserted between the radio and the standard Yaesu microphone. Thanks in advance for your feedback. I enjoy reading your SOTA adventures!

    • Hi Mike, all (most) modern SSB transmitters have selectable SSB voice compression circuits to improve the signal to noise ratio of the transmitted signal. The idea is to increase the average amplitude of the voice signal before mixing with the RF signal. The Yaesu FT-817 doesn’t have an on-board voice compression circuit (I suspect to save on space, cost and weight) therefore makers of after market kits have found a niche market for such a device.
      Here is a link to Wiki voice compression.
      Scroll down to the section on ‘Voice’.

      The makers of the DYC kit claim a 6dB gain (4 times) increase of the loudness of the voice signal, therefore increasing the SSB average power output. The receiving station is likely to see a one S unit improvement in the received signal, which may be the difference between being heard and not heard at QRP levels.


      Andrew VK1AD

  4. Hi Andrew, I really enjoyed your post and enjoyed a more easier journey than you. Your photos are really good and enable the reader to get a sense of the countryside. 73 John D VK5BJE/VK5PF

    • Thanks Tony, I enjoyed writing about my experience as much as being there on the day.
      Happy New Year for 2017 and an ultra low noise floor. I hope the new radio shack is everything you want it to be.
      Andrew VK1AD

  5. Mt Ritchie is such a variable summit. When Allen VK3ARH and I first activated it we were hiking in 3 degrees with signs of recent snow. Last time I was there I didn’t see any snakes but was surprised by deer instead.

    Good to read that you finally made it up there.

    • Thanks Peter, two years is a long time to remain patient. I hope to activate Ritchie in 2017 next time in the cooler months for the 3 point winter bonus.
      Happy New Year Peter for 2107. Look forward to many QSOs
      A huge thanks for your wonderful Port-a-Log app Peter, I wouldn’t be without it.
      Your support to the AR ‘Parks and Peaks’ community is outstanding!
      Andrew VK1AD

  6. Andrew,

    Linda and I were in Australia in 2003 with a large singing group (Sydney/Brisbane + Linda and I did a dive trip at Cairns) and had the opportunity to go to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The inland portion of southeast Australia is just strikingly beautiful. Where you were on this trip reminded me so much of that trip to the Blue Mountains!

    73 de Gary, WB5ULK

    P.S.: I’d choose the mountains over the mall any day!

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