So this is a long story… but the short version is I drove over to Western Australia just before Christmas with the intention of meeting my family and driving back after a week in Esperance. This gave me the opportunity to tick off a bunch of summits in VK5 and VK6. Peak Charles was one of the main goals, having been activated just the once, and looking like a real challenge to summit.
The bushfires across Australia put an end to activations on the way over and then to driving back after Christmas with the Eyre Highway closed for 10 days. Left the car in Perth and flew back with the idea that we’d head to Perth as usual for Easter and drive back then. This plan itself was deemed to be at risk due to the rapidly evolving situation so I made a decision at the last minute to book a flight a week earlier and retrieve my car by myself before it became impossible. This decision turned out to be fortuitous.
A solo trip again opened up the possibility of an activation of this remote summit. Due to a variety of factors, I ended up leaving Perth late, and I was a bit slower than expected so I only made it to Esperance the first day. Driving towards Norseman I was in two minds but the fact that a contest was in progress sealed it.
The track out to the summit was generally good (I took the first option heading out of Salmon Gums – Kumarl-Lake King road – which is claimed to be in better condition than the Lake King-Norseman road which it joins onto – highly likely true), until the second half where the famous corrugations hit, along with two muddy sections which I had expected given the rain the day and weeks before. This is a 2wd road in the dry and definitely 4wd in the wet. The road further out to Peak Elanora is actually sign posted as being impassable in the wet.
If it’s light coloured sand, you’re good, when you hit the darker brown gravel sections you need to be extremely careful with the corrugations.
Parked up at the campsite, packed a light bag, resoldered a connection on the 20m ground plane and set off. Forewarned on the final ascent, I did take climbing shoes and chalk – both unused however.
After a well defined trail at the bottom, you ended up at the first rock sections where you’re looking for the next wooden marker, which are quite frequently placed but sometimes required searching.
From there it becomes more challenging and having chosen trail runners I did roll my foot awkwardly. Bottom section is better suited for boots but we’ll get back to that.
Eventually after some bashing through bush and working your way around you’ll end up at something like saddle which is the base of the final climb.
The path up is the section cleared of moss – there are no positive hand holds, it’s mostly friction based up the steep first step (about a person high). There is some amount of exposure both sides, the base is steeply sloped itself. If you’re happy to climb that – you’re good all the way up.
From here on, my opinion is a softer shoe is better than hiking boots, or at least something that will put a lot of rubber down would be preferable. My trail runners were near brand new so I wasn’t sure about the grip (hence packing climbing shoes) but was pleasantly surprised at how well they smeared.
There are probably 4 short interesting sections to ascend and the thought for 2 of them is more whether you can get back down safely or not. I never really found great handholds when i wanted them, it’s mostly deft footwork, at least the way i approached it. There is a sign at the bottom implying that those of us on the shorter side may have more issues. Aside from those little sections, the rest is straightforward scrambling.
Note that this climb would be impossible in wet weather, and that applies to descending as well. Slipping in a number of places could result in severe injury or death. Having done it solo, I would also not recommend this due to the remote location.
Anyway eventually reached the top in about an hour. The views over the lakes are spectacular.
Note that the summit has steep drop offs and in some cases appears to be actual overhangs, I setup somewhat further down to just within what I thought would be 25m vertical of the summit which gave just enough room for any reasonable wire antenna.
Ground plane was setup first and bands sounded lively. First calls on 20m resulted in QSOs with ZL1TM, ZL1BYZ, VK5IS, VK3PF and ZL1WA. The ZLs were a bit of a surprise given I was only running 5w SSB.
Switching to 15M I had s9 signals, but needed to switch antennas, this time the 88ft extended double Zepp. I had better plans but they were thwarted. Unfortunately the inverted V arrangement had a major impact on signals, just going to show how much better verticals are for dx.
Nothing on 15m, but I did snag one VK6 contest station on 40m before wanting to pack up and get down – clouds were building and this is not a place to be when it rains, plus I still had around 3000km to drive.
Climbing down is interesting by itself, made more complicated with a full backpack and squid pole. The recommended approach I’d read is to slide down on your butt which doesn’t work with a pack.
The two featureless sections i lowered the pack down first with a rope (having taken the PLB from it), the others where there was a crack and corner I utilized something like a drop knee to turn my hip into the rock and the squidpole away from it. Nice and secure with all the lower body tension. Again, reliant on a good fitting shoe and good grip in the toe box/ball area. There are probably less elegant ways here as well that have greater wear on your clothing.
Again the concern is not so much the technical difficulty or height, but the consequences of slipping at the wrong point. Not a lot to grab hold of.
Descending the rest was a matter of following the poles which was more navigationally challenging than on the ascent.
The area itself is really nice – nice campsite, covered picnic area, top notch toilet and provided it’s not wet, the opportunity for two summits within a short distance.