I did say earlier in the week that I felt the urge for a unique and I had lined up a few Corbetts to try. In the end I wasn’t sure about the WX or my comfort level up around 900m after quite a severe winter. So I decided I needed more experience and settled for another jaunt up The Chonz! Ben Chonzie is described as the most boring Munro but there are some quite large cliffs and craggy areas. However, approached from Glen Lednock, it’s a safe big mountain. That’s because there’s an excellent track up almost as far as the summit ridge. From the end of the track it’s a quick yomp across the heather and then there’s a line of fence posts to follow to the summit shelter. There’s nothing exposed, no big drops, no avalanche prone slopes etc. A chance to get above 900m with not too much danger and hence ideal to practice winter walking.
I was up with the larks and arrived at the car park for 9.05am and was 3rd car in. The problem is with this being an easy big hill, it would be busy with the WX being so nice. Approx 70% blue sky, no wind although the summit was in and out of the cloud as I drove up the Glen. I was away from the car at 9.20 complete with normal SOTA swag and ice-axe and crampons. I knew I wouldn’t need either but I wanted to be sure.
The first part of the walk is easy, just follow the path which climbs a lot more than I remember from 2 years ago. There was no wind but it was quite cool, the car told me it was -4C in the car park but the sun was bright and, of course, I’d forgotten my sunglasses. Just after the intake for Loch Lednock reservoir the paths forks, take the left fork. The view just gets better as you climb. There was considerable snow cover quite low down but the path was clear upto about the 500m level, after that the ice started. Essentially the snow on the path had consolidated after several freeze/thaw cycles and of course all the boots which had pounded it. There was enough fresh but hard frozen snow on the surface of the ice that I didn’t need any crampons or support. In fact, it was surprisingly grippy. The ascent was just a nice yomp along, even the steep bit wasn’t too taxing. I don’t think I’m getting fit I think or anything even though I’ve lost about 4.5kg since Christmas, I think my mind just blocks out trudgery nowadays!
Now the path just ends and then you walk across the bare ground. Hard to see in the snow and ice but the footprints (lots of footprints) led off up the slope towards the skyline. This didn’t feel the right place and checking with the GPS showed the footprints branching off too soon. But there were no footprints following where I thought the path was so I followed the tracks. The snow was well consolidated in all but a few places. Even my vast bulk hardly ever broke the surface. I just kept trudging but it did seem much steeper than I remembered. Overlaying the track from the GPS showed that tracks did take a shorter but steeper line that I last took, probably saving 3/4km from each leg of the walk.
So up to the decaying fence posts and the climb is all but done. I made sure I could tell where I met the fence remains. Just in case the cloud came down or it snowed, I wanted a visual clue of where to branch off the ridge. This seemed like a good idea as the cloud was thicker now and the summit had disappeared. Though the cloud looked to be transitory and indeed the summit was clear soon. From there I waltzed along to the summit shelter.
Bottoms! It was full of ice… imagine a solid igloo and you have an idea of the shape. Last time I was here it would have been impossible to stay out of the shelter for more than a minute or two but there was no wind to speak of. It was proper cold though! So doubled up Buff under the big hat and two fleeces under the down jacket. Oh boy did I look like Bibendum! I set up using some iron fence posts and was away. Or not. Time to the summit was 2hr20 which is 20 mins faster than Anquet says and that didn’t know about the snow and ice. I was quite pleased with that time. I was also 1hr20mins ahead of my alerted time!
Now I made a new link dipole on Saturday for 30m/40m/60m. I kept the old antenna as a reserve as testing in my cramped garden gives different SWR results to up on a hill. Anyway on 60m things were bad. So I checked the links, explained what I was doing to some walkers and tried again. Still rubbish. I could hear stuff on 60m but the match was rubbish. Lower the pole and I found I hadn’t connected the legs of the dipole to the feeder. D’Oh! Normal 1:1.1 match was restored and this time I was away.
60m seemed to be in excellent condition and there was a quite massive pileup at times. I was lighted headed so even called on 60m on the key and was rewarded with G4BLH and G4RQJ. I did hear G3FTH but he qsb’ed away. I had a chat with Jack GM4COX who asked, nonchalantly, if I was doing Auchnafree Hill SS-039 afterwards. Ha! Jack is such a joker as he’s seen what a lardball I am. I dream of being able to do a dual activation like that! Unlike Jack, who’s been a lean, mean fighting machine all his life, I hold gold medals in eating chips and sitting still to conserve energy! Also Alan MM0XXP was out putting Ben Clach SS-149 on the air for the 1st time. This is the site of the old Cultybraggan Army Camp firing range and is festooned with warning signs. Apparently, the farmer here is a real GOML and doesn’t approve of walkers. Respect to Alan for braving the GOML and any unexploded ordnance, though it’s 10 years since the range was used I believe.
Now the proof of the pudding, how would the antenna work on 30m. I was avoiding 40m due to the CW contest. I got Mark G0VOF to spot me and then was delayed talking to more walkers. When I finally got onto 30m the wolf pack was waiting and things were made harder by MM0ROV appearing about 200Hz lower around the same time. He was unaware of me of course. I only pressed the dot paddle to check things and the radio exploded with calls. Even with a 300Hz filter fitted all I could hear was a single continuous tone.
Arrrghhh! Frightening! Everyone was sending fast, at the same time and on top of each other. I thought 40m was meant to be the mad house but this was horrific! Anyway I called and after many PSE QRS I started working people. In the end I managed contacts into ON, F, HB9, DL, PA, OK and SM. So I know the antenna is OK! I must apologise for being so rubbish at CW reception and having to ask for many repeats and taking so long to get calls right. This was caused by mainly blind panic at the size of the initial pileup and the cold and the fact I was making a prize chump of myself!
So I checked my watch and I’d been on the summit for 2hrs and it was time to go. I packed up double quick and was off back down the ridge. The WX was improving and the views were amazing. Sadly there was enough cloud to spoil a lot of the long range views and I was too busy panicking on 30m to photograph the better vistas. Anyway, there’s always next time. My return route was the ascent route in reverse. Soon I was back at the distinctive fence post and the tracks leading down to the path proper. At the path itself I decided to practice using my new crampons. I certainly didn’t need them as I’ve been down worse icy paths without much issue but this seemed like an ideal chance to practice without endangering myself.
I whipped out my Katoohlas (ooo-er sounds a bit rude) and had them on my boots in no time. Wow! Wow! And thrice wow! I was able to skip down the path. Instead of being as ungainly as a big fat bloke on a slippy surface, I strode down like a man with a purpose. Wow! They worked so well. So much for crampons not working on flexible boots. Unfortunately I ran out of ice and so stopped for lunch and to adjust layers etc. I’d forgotten to eat on the summit due to the excitement so I stopped for 10 mins for some energy bars and a big drink. I removed excess layers of fleece and rejigged everything AND PUT MY LITTLE HAT IN MY POCKET.
The walk out to the car was a doddle from here and 50mins later I was cracking the flask open. More noms and a nice cup of Earl Grey and I thought back about 30m. What fantastic but exhausting fun that was. I can’t wait to make an idiot of myself again. That’s when I discovered the missing hat. I was gutted. It’s been up so many hills with me and it had obviously fallen out somewhere in the last 3km of the walk. I can’t believe I’ve lost it after so many trips together. I was really sad till I found an identical but logo-less one in ASDA today for 50p!
After chilling out I had a quick drive up to Lednock Dam for a few photos then a leisurely drive out of the Glen and a chug back home. Chill out vibes were provided by The Snowy White Blues Project and the RHCP’s One Big Minute.
Total walked: 13.2km, total ascent: 730m, distance driven: 143 miles
Thanks to everyone who worked me and thanks to all the chasers on 30m who stuck with me whilst I demonstrated quality CW ineptness. Special thanks Ambrosi HB9AGH who in the madness simply sent his call at about 16wpm but with a nice gap between the characters. Oh that was so easy to copy! Now I promise to practice my CW every day and hopefully, I might be just a little beter next time.