Cefn Cenarth, Carn Gafallt, Carneddau, Aberedw Hill and The Begwyns
Saturday 7th July 2007
Yet again it was a number of weeks since I had been in the hills and I was chomping at the bit and suffering from SOTA-related claustrophobia. In addition, the schedule for these summits had been in place since March when the winter bonus period ended and I had started planning my summer activations. It was all there written down on an Excel spreadsheet, teasing me every time I sat down at the computer. Also I knew that I had to do this group close to the summer solstice and with plans in place for later in July time was running out. I was therefore very pleased to see a reasonable weather forecast for Saturday 7th July.
As usual I had a fairly restless night before rising at 3 a.m. local time. Bev also awoke at the sound of the alarm, so I made two cups of tea when I got down to the kitchen. Having packed much of the equipment, food and clothing into the car the evening before (with checklist in hand), I managed to depart without a hitch by 0233UTC. The roads were surprisingly busy, an indication that this was indeed summer, but once dawn had broken an hour or so later I was beginning to doubt that I would actually be experiencing a summer’s day. I arrived at the gateway to the east of my first summit at 0515UTC just after a brief shower. There was just room for a single vehicle to the right of the gate, my 5 metre long car being a very snug fit indeed. After getting kitted up, I started the easy ascent at 0530UTC, a full half hour earlier than planned, beneath a sky full of dark grey clouds.
The access to Cefn Cenarth, GW/MW-039, is on private land up a series of good quality farm tracks which then continue from field gate to field gate through knee high grass, crushed only by sheep and quad bike wheels. The land obviously belongs to a caring and well-organised farmer, presumably resident at nearby Fron, since this is where the tracks originate. Walking through the grass I was soon reminded of what I had forgotten to do – waterproof my boots! So the scene was set for the day and my feet would still be damp when I eventually shed my boots some 16 hours later after my last summit. The ascent took just 16 minutes and after a sheep scattering amble to the summit, I decided to move slightly north to take advantage of the fence for supporting the mast and the considerably reduced quantity of sheep droppings at this location. By this time I had damp trousers as well as feet, since there was persistent drizzle in the blustery and cold westerly wind. Despite the discomfort, it took just twelve minutes before I was set up and on air. I was able to judge my beam position by the summits of Pegwn Mawr MW-006 to the north east and Garreg Lwyd MW-014 to the south west, but I still got out my compass to check beam headings.
Following a brief check on the Kent and Angus beacons which were weak but well out of the noise, I made a call on 144.300 at 0559UTC which immediately brought back John M0JDK. This hour was early, even for the SOTA Breakfast Club, so I was pleased that John was up to post my activation. After signing with him at 0604, I then went 9 minutes without another contact before Frank G3RMD called in. A summit to summit with Paul G4MD/P on Caer Caradoc, G/WB-006, made contact number three, proving that I was not the only mad person on the hills at that time of day. Don G0NES qualified the hill for me, then it was back to a quiet band, even on FM, so I decided to move to 5MHz. Here I made a run of just 7 contacts including repeats with John and Don. At the end of my run, GW0VMZ kindly posted my QSY to 10.116 without being asked (many thanks!) and there I worked 5 stations, all in different countries. When the frequency went quiet, I returned to 2m SSB and put a call out for Graham G4JZF who was patiently waiting for me. So I was off to a fair start with 17 contacts in the bag, but overall I had not found the summit to be what I had imagined it to be. A leisurely dismantling of the station and a saunter downhill brought me back to the car and I was away to my next summit by 0737UTC, still ahead of schedule.
I had planned the order of the activations to start in the Rhyader area as this can get congested later in the day. All was clear as I motored through the town to my next summit Carn Gefallt, GW/MW-040. Here the satnav brought me to a convenient section of grassy verge just along from the bridleway up to the Open Access land. As the grass was very greasy, I had to position the car so that I could roll it off onto a track on my departure and this took a few minutes out of my spare time. There was a loud noise coming from a herd of sheep at the farm as I got out of the car – it appeared that shearing time was in full swing!
The ascent of this summit is initially up a pleasant track into a wooded area, then out onto the open hillside. It was very easy going until I stepped left off the track and then it was a matter of finding animal tracks heading in the general direction of the summit through the heather, bilberries, bracken and gorse. There were a lot of birds in this mix of undergrowth and rodents scurried away as I made my way slowly uphill. Eventually I found a section of hillside where the vegetation had been burnt off a year or so ago and progress improved, but then I found my way blocked by some boggy sections which proved to be unavoidable and so my feet got their second soaking of the day. Fortunately there is a large swathe of low level vegetation up to the summit area where the highest point is marked by a small cairn. This proved to be suitable for supporting the mast and so I avoided deploying the guying a second time. The ascent had taken 43 minutes and after taking ten minutes to set up, I commenced operation at 0900UTC precisely at the scheduled time.
Again, my first action was to check the beacons. This summit looked more promising on VHF and I was soon in QSO with Paul G4MD/P, who was now on his second summit, Heath Mynd G/WB-007. We had a five minute chat, then I moved off to 144.333 to work G4JZF, G0NES and G0RQL in succession. As there were no more takers on 2m, I moved to 5MHz again and picked up a run of 9 contacts, followed by two more on CW (at the request of Cris GM4FAM) and a final one on SSB with Mike G4BLH. Conditions were reasonable, but activity was surprisingly low. At 0940UTC I moved to 10MHz, but despite calling CQ for 10 minutes, I had no calls, so I closed down. It took a little longer than anticipated to pack up and so on the descent I took the steep direct route through waist high bracken to join the track at the edge of the OA land. This enabled me to depart for my next summit by 1034UTC, only slightly behind schedule.
The road south from the parking spot took me down a gated road – three gates in total. I used the slow progress on this section of road to take my lunch “on the hoof” and it seemed an age before I was out onto the main road and heading south for Builth Wells. My third summit was Carneddau, GW/MW-023, and I used the satnav directions to the parking spot determined by Richard G3CWI to the east of the hill where I found all of the parking spaces to be full of farm machinery. As I sat in the car pondering my next move, the farmer approached on his quad bike. I asked about the location of the bridleway and was told it did not exist and that I would have to use the one farther back down the road. He then drove off and having nowhere to park I followed him a minute or two later. I located the right of way quite readily, but the farmer had inconveniently parked his quad bike on the only available parking place, so it was out with the maps again. I decided to drive around to the north west of the hill where the road is quite close to the OA land. Later I discovered that this is the route described by Richard G4ERP in the summit information. I managed to park my sizeable vehicle down the lane a short distance to the north and was making my ascent just ten minutes later than planned despite all of the time lost in making the detour.
The ascent of the hill from the north west was simple and straightforward. Unfortunately in my haste I did not track my route with my Garmin GPS and so I put in some unnecessary mileage on my descent! This is very pleasant countryside and I made good time up the grassy bridleway to the col before moving across to the summit which is marked by a wooden peg and two stones. Hearing Paul, now signing GW4MD/P from Caeliber Isaf on 144.310, I put in a call using my FM handheld while making my ascent, but could not attract his attention. Unfortunately a third S2S with him was not to be as I did not reach the activation area before he had closed down. Anyway, I reached the summit at my scheduled time and once set up and with the beacons checked, I was in contact with G4JZF by 1220UTC. This summit provided a run of 11 contacts on 2m, followed by a further 7 on 5MHz including a CW contact, again with Cris GM4FAM. Moving to 10MHz at 1312 brought no replies once more - a quick check on 7MHz revealed that all of the action was on that band, but having used up my time, I was not able to join in. As noted previously, a slight detour too far north on my descent left me 15 minutes late departing for summit number four at 1400UTC.
The parking spot for Aberedw Hill, GW/NW-022, coincided with a description posted on a hill bagging website that I had read. I was somewhat concerned about the availability of parking and upon arrival I could see that this was indeed tight, being on a slope to the right side of a field gate. It was therefore a case of nosing the car up the gradient into the undergrowth, which just about got the rear end off the road. Fortunately this is a dead end serving a single farm at this point. The footpath indicated on the map was not especially clear on the ground, so I ascended through the field close to the hedge and located a rough stile near the top. Turning right into the next field I made my way across and upwards until I was adjacent to the OA land, but then had to walk along the boundary until I found a place to cross the barbed wire topped fence. It was then a case of finding animal tracks through waist high bracken until I came out to thinner vegetation higher up. Eventually the tumulii that are a feature of this hill were located and I made my way towards where the trig point would be.
Coming over a slight rise, my worst fears were realised – there was an enormous mast projecting from the trig point and as VHF NFD was now in progress, I immediately thought that this might have to be a low key activation using FM. I decided to announce my arrival so made my way to the trig to find, to my surprise and great pleasure, that the operator with a VX7 in his hand was actually Neil MW0ECX operating SOTA. This summit had previously had only 3 activations and now on a single day had two wholly independent activators on its summit. Introductions were made and we had a brief conversation before I set up close by. Neil kindly offered to vacate the trig, but I decided the guys needed an airing and the HF dipole would work better from a flatter site, the trig being on quite a sharp rise. Neil came over to see the 817 in the flesh and I made my first contact at 1527UTC, this time with Richard G4ERP. Chasers were again in short supply and a run of just 7 contacts were made on 2m which included two contest stations that had found me on 144.363. Don G0NES then came up and kindly advised that John GW4BVE/P was now up on 5MHz, so I moved to that band to work him. Many thanks Don! This was John’s final GW/NW summit, Carn Fadryn, a summit that I had last climbed back in 1959 as a young boy!
After the contact with John, I moved down a couple of channels and had a further six contacts on 5MHz. Neil had started to pack up while I was working this run of contacts and between transmit sessions we agreed that I would call him on 2m FM about 15 minutes after his departure when he would be out of the activation zone. After concluding on 5MHz, I briefly went back to 2m SSB to see whether their were any stragglers and received a call from EI9E/P with signals at 59 both ways. A look at 10MHz revealed non-SOTA stations packed across the band with little space, so I took a few photographs, then called Neil on his descent to give him the summit. I dismantled the station and was making my own descent by 1650UTC, during which I phoned Bev to tell her about my progress. I asked her to feed Whisper and arranged for the front door to be put on one of the locks since I would be arriving home after she had gone to bed. I also aired the possibility that I might stop for a sleep on the way home if I found that I was too tired to drive. Finding an easier way down the hill, I was en route to my final summit of the day just half an hour later, having been pleased to find my car had not slid down into the road!
Richard G3CWI had told me that the TomTom satnav can be somewhat erratic in the area of The Begwyns, GW/MW-025, which was where I was heading. Approaching from the north, I was pleased to find that I had no problem and I was at the parking spot easily by 1745UTC. There was time for a leisurely tea time snack before I made my way up to the summit which is called The Roundabout. It was now a very pleasant evening and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was completely alone and would be for the entire evening. After a quick visit to the trig point, I decided to operate from the stone seating within the circular stone walled enclosure and I set up the mast between the stone sections of the seat. There was ample room to erect the HF dipole and I was up and running on time at 1830UTC. Frank G3RMD was waiting for me and we had a chat on 144.190 which gave time for the spot to work. However, I was next called by Vaughan M0VRR who was out portable to contact a few contest stations and was surprised to find I was just operating SOTA. Don G0NES followed, then relative local Paul GW8CAK completed the qualification session, with G4JZF, G8ADD and G0RQL following in line. I then moved to 5MHz where conditions were very good, though activity was still low with only 7 contacts in total. After this session, I returned to have a look around 2m and after a further contest exchange, I was called by Stewart G0LGS, so we were able to exchange some items of news.
Having put the contingency measures in place with Bev, I decided to extend my stay on the summit and try out the 70cms equipment that I had taken to the summit with me. I dismantled the 2m and HF antennas and erected the 6 element DL6WU yagi that I had built a year or so previous for SOTA activations, but had rarely used. I had advised Stewart of my intentions, but had already “qualified” the summit on the band by the time that he found me. I then went on to work a total of 12 contacts in 50 minutes in 8 locator squares ranging from IO74 to the north, IO70 to the south-west and IO90 to the east, with many 59 reports both ways. It was 2045UTC by the time I switched the equipment off and 2120UTC by the time I was ready to take my leave and get on the road. It was still quite light and very pleasant and I found that I was not as tired as I thought that I would be. A stop was not required on the journey and so I arrived home at 0000UTC.
I would like to thank everyone that came on to work me, particularly those that made a special effort since the number of people active on both 2m and 5MHz was exceptionally low. Looking down the 2m logs, Don G0NES and Graham G4JZF claimed a full house, with Don G0RQL just missing out on the first summit, presumably due to its poor take-off. Frank G3RMD contacted me on three summits, though missed me on Aberedw where he actually made it on 5MHz. On the lower band there was a solid 5 out of 5 from the North Wales mafia, Steve GW7AAV and Mike GW0DSP together with their southern rival Alastair GW0VMZ. Don G0RQL and Geoff G4CPA each made it to three summits and several others worked me on two of the five on one of the two bands.
The equipment used (for the benefit of those who do not know) was an FT-817 plus Microwave Modules linear on 2 metres running 25 watts output to a 5 element Tonna (modified from a 9 element) at 3.6m above ground fed with 5 metres of 5D-FB semi-rigid cable. System NF about 1.4dB. On 70cms, the 817 was used to drive another Microwave Modules linear delivering 25 watts output with the 5 watts of drive available. Gasfet RF preamp. Cable as for 2m. HF was the 817 delivering 5 watts to a multiband linked dipole for 60m, 40m and 30m. On this occasion I used my 4 section aluminium mast all day due to the blustery wind and I carried it by hand as the ascents were not particularly difficult and doing it this way saves time in and out of the car. I managed to take photographs on each summit, which in itself is amazing. A selection have been posted on Flickr.
All in all it was another pleasant and rewarding day operating SOTA. I was awake for over 22 hours between rising and getting back to bed and there were 354 miles spent in the saddle. It was worth the extra effort to do 5 summits, but most likely I will be down to my usual 4 in a day the next time around.
73 es bcnu, Gerald