Banc Llechwedd-mawr GW/MW-007 and Drosgol GW/MW-008
Saturday 21st February 2009
On this occasion we found that we were spoilt for choice as to where we might go since good weather conditions prevailed over England and Wales. Due to work commitments, communication between Paul and myself was somewhat sporadic during the week prior to the activation. We managed to be completely out of phase on the Friday evening with me out at a social event until at least midnight. I therefore had to leave the final decision as to where to go to Paul, though admit to offering a sizeable hint in my final email sent to him during the day. I found he had taken the bait by logging onto the SOTA website using my mobile phone shortly after midnight.
After retiring to the settee at 00:30, it wasn’t long before I dropped off to sleep and I awoke at 03:20, the internal clock beating the alarm by a full 10 minutes. Despite this, I didn’t roll out from underneath my blanket until 03:34, but still managed to be away from Northampton at 03:58 to arrive at Paul’s house at 05:15. It was Paul’s turn to drive and we left Stourbridge at 05:38. The roads were fairly free of traffic and it didn’t seem that long before we were turning into the minor road towards the Nant-y-moch reservoir on the west side of Plynlimon. Temporary road signs indicated closure, but armed with the information given to Carolyn G6WRW back in November that the dam would be open to traffic by Christmas, we were confident of making the planned parking spot at west end of the reservoir. Surely the signs had just been left in position after completion of the work to the dam – not so! We therefore had two options – to go a considerable distance around to drive in from the other direction or to start from the end of the metalled road near to the Maesnant Outward Bound Centre at SN774878, due east of the summit of Drosgol. We decided to opt for the latter, knowing that we would be exchanging the relative luxury of the track along the northern side of the reservoir for a slightly shorter route over open country with nothing by the way of tracks in evidence when we had looked at Google Earth. We parked up at 07:54, almost half an hour ahead of schedule, pleased for once to be able to get ready in a temperature above freezing without the hassle of wind or rain. We set off at 08:15, still 5 minutes shy of our scheduled arrival time.
The route from the parking spot basically heads north-north-east until it reaches one of the fast flowing feeder stream for the reservoir, Afon Hengwm, which can be crossed by way of an old footbridge. The first kilometre is along a rough track which descends from 380m at the parking spot to around 350m and which could easily be driven by a decent Landrover. As we reached a point on the track around SN781889, we made the decision to try to find a suitable crossing point across the stream and cut left to the bank across an area of boggy grass. We then took a walk along the bank looking for a suitable crossing point, but there wasn’t one – the bridleways shown on the Ordnance map are a relic of history. We therefore carried on to the footbridge, after which a lightly trampled line of vegetation suggested the route in a north-westerly direction over a rocky scar and then a further descent to a narrower stream, Afon Hyddgen. We located a suitable crossing point which showed evidence of use roughly where the bridleway is shown on the Ordnance map – this comprised of a line of 4 mossy stones showing some wear on their upper surface. Paul decided to go first and with a deft movement managed to cross, but indicated he had not particularly enjoyed the experience. I was rather hesitant to follow and my fears were realised as soon as my left boot touched the second stone. I ended up basically standing nearly knee deep on one leg in the stream trying to get a purchase on the third stone to heave myself out of the water. This I managed to do and once I was standing on the far bank, I undertook a damage assessment: my left knee had taken a knock and my trousers had water splashes, but at least I wasn’t soaked. It could have been much worse. The air trapped inside my gaiter and the close fit of my boot had kept the water at bay and I was surprised to find that I had totally dry feet.
Continuing in a north-westerly direction, Paul consulted his watch - it was 09:00. Eyeing up the sides of both summits, Paul suggested we might be able to keep to our scheduled alert times if we swapped the summit order. There was no sign of the bridleway that is shown on the map as heading in the direction of Drosgol, so I agreed that we should ascend Banc Llechwedd-mawr first, even though the 210m climb in something around 900m horizontal distance did not particularly appeal. That sort of average gradient is acceptable when there is a measure of constancy and there is reasonably decent ground under foot. However, this ascent had some very steep sections indeed, many false summits and was surfaced with a combination of moss and grass tussocks which threatened to break your ankle at virtually every step. One step forward and two back was a regular occurrence and breaks for photographic opportunities came often – it was tiring, but my knee held up well. This terrain did not quite match the Galloway ground I had experienced in October 2007, but it came a very close second. It was with a definite sigh of relief that we reached the summit cairns at 10:00 – ironically precisely on schedule!
Paul suggested that I use the summit shelter to take advantage of the height, while he sought shelter in the lee of the summit to operate on HF. I rarely drink or eat on a summit, but before setting up I had to take a drink of water and snack on a chocolate bar. We were both ready for 10:18 and I decided to look for Richard GW4ERP/P on Mynydd Llangorse GW/SW-015 before starting my own operation. Richard was found on his usual frequency of 144.320MHz and responded to my first call. Conditions seemed to be quite good and with the S2S in the bag, I took a quick look at the beacons before settling on 144.333MHz. Graham G4FUJ was first in line at 10:23 and he advised that Mike GW0DSP had already spotted me. Stewart G0LGS followed and then I heard Tris 2E0VXX calling, but he disappeared when I went back to him. Don G0RQL put in a call and once I turned my beam, we had s9+ signals both ways. A quick QSY to 70cms SSB was then made, but signals were noticeably down on what they had been on 2m. I returned to 2m to continue the run and a couple of contacts later again tried 70cms with Roger G0TRB, unfortunately this time without success. The run on 2m was steady with several calling each time. One notable get-away was Alun 2W0CYM at 10:59 and I’m sure a number of others actually gave up calling. Once the frequency went quite, I did a lot of beam turning to try to pick up stragglers, but there weren’t any, so at 11:07 I moved to 432.222MHz SSB and called…. and called…. and called. I therefore decided to give 2m FM a quick check and picked up Simon M1AVV, Iain MW3WJZ/M on the ascent of Carnedd Llewellyn GW/NW-002 and Andrew G0LWU once I had found a clear frequency. I went QRT at 11:20.
Paul started on 60m and despite changeable conditions, more evident to the chasers than to him, made a decent run of 19 contacts. It appeared that the skip was altering considerably as Mike GW0DSP told me that he had copied Paul at s9 and within a few minutes the signal had faded out completely. Others reported the reverse. Certainly Paul’s run started with Steve GW7AAV at 10:19 and then there wasn’t another GW in the log until 10:51, though the pattern of propagation is impossible to discern. Paul’s signals were making it into Belgium early on as Peter ON3WAB posted the spot for Paul. Moving to 80m after completing the run with a contact with G0HNW, Paul found a clear slot on 3.668MHz and started calling. Despite this being close to his chosen frequency, no-one was worked on this band.
I noted Paul had already dropped his antenna by the time I went QRT, so I quickly packed up and we were on our way down by 11:34. We made good progress to where we knew the new footbridge over Afon Llechwedd-mawr would be (SN766888) as Carolyn G6WRW had kindly provided me with a print-out of her route. The descent was quite hairy with some areas presenting impossible gradients requiring us to side track to avoid them. Looking back up the slope from the bridge we were both convinced that we had opted for the best overall route for the two summits. The ascent of Drosgol looked relatively mild by comparison. However, the route between the bridge and the summit certainly had some steep sections, particularly the last one up to the summit area.
Arriving at 12:53, just 8 minutes behind schedule (which included the luxury of a lunch break), we took up similar positions to the first summit and again were both QRV at 13:15. Paul found 60m in good shape and started his run with a contact with Paul G0HNW. Declan EI9HQ made the log at 13:27 and quarter of an hour later Paul got excited when he thought he was in line for an S2S, but on this occasion Robin GM7PKT was operating from home. The final contact on 60m was with Bill G4USW, who was also first in the log for 80m SSB a few minutes later at 13:56. Bill placed a spot for Paul’s new frequency and a short run of 6 contacts ensued, John GW4BVE being the last in the log.
Cosy within the summit shelter which reached 10 degrees C, I decided lunch was on the cards before setting up. However, the temptation to get going was too great and I started constructing the dual band yagi while I ate my sandwiches. Finding Richard GW4ERP/P on the summit of Waun Rydd GW/SW-004 on 144.320MHz, I put in a call, but this time had to wait my turn in the queue while he worked into PA and ON and exchanged reports with a number of others more local to him. Anyway, at 13:18 the QSO was made, after which I moved up to 144.333MHz, again to be followed by Graham G4FUJ, but Quentin GW3BV got the draw on him this time around. A little further down the run, Jim EI3GE called in from just across the water and this was followed by another two band contact with Don G0RQL. I worked Iain MW3WJZ/P for the second time in the day, this time a most welcome S2S as he was now on the summit of Carnedd Llewellyn GW/NW-002. A contact with John M0JDK/M took quite a bit of effort, but was completed after several repeats of my report to him. A little later Dave M6WOW/P on Stiperstones G/WB-003 provided a third S2S for me on this summit and was the final 2m SSB contact at 14:06. On 432.222MHz there was again no action, so it was back to 2m FM where I made just a single contact with local Will MW3WSC before the SLAB started to die. QRT was at 14:25. As I packed up and Paul came over to enquire whether we should have lunch before descending – too late I told him, had mine!
We set off from the summit at 14:45 after Paul had eaten his lunch and I had taken some more photographs. On the descent we realised just how steep the slope was, but the combination of ground cover seemed to provide better support going downhill and it wasn’t long before we were back at the new footbridge with the hard work behind us – just that stream to cross now. A track does actually exist around the southern side of Banc Llechwedd-mawr, but it peters out into boggy grassland as it turns north-east and the going was then quite slow. Paul had noticed a marker at the point where Afon Hyddgen flows into Afon Hengwm, so we headed for that point in the hope that it marked a crossing point. It looked relatively shallow, so I carefully stepped out onto the greasy stream bed to once again test the waterproofing on my boots and pick the best route to the other side. There were no mishaps this time, so it was then along the bank to the old footbridge and a return up the track to arrive at the car at 16:30 – after all that, precisely on schedule!
Having done this pair of summits, Paul and I can only admire those that have done them alone. There is so much that can go wrong in this type of landscape. Banging my knee was a minor issue – it could have been something much worse and at a much more inconvenient location. Mobile phone coverage is non-existent for much of the way. We saw no-one from the time we left the car to the time we got back. Apart from a few sheep, the highlight of the day was a Hawk Moth caterpillar. This part of the world is rural rural.
As can be imagined, the endorphines were running riot once we got back at the car. The weather had been dry and cloudy to start off with, but once the cloud cleared around 11:00, the views were just stunning. I look a record number of photographs. After such a marvellous and satisfying day, it was an added bonus to have daylight for part of our journey back to Stourbridge. We set out at 16:50 after a snack and arrived at Paul’s for 19:17. The journey over to Northampton was reasonably swift and I was home for 20:58 in good time to sink that half bottle of red wine that had stood on the kitchen worktop all week!
Thanks to Mike GW0DSP for the 2m SSB spots, Peter ON3WAB and Stewart G0LGS for the 60m ones and to Bill G4USW for that for 80m. Also to Graham G4JZF who I know spotted me for Drosgol as Don G0RQL told me he had, but the spot had been removed when I got home. Thanks also to anyone else that provided spots that were similarly disposed of. The only error in the spotting department was my own – I should have spotted myself for 70cms SSB. I’ll try to remember next time, but in consolation, the two that I did make with Don G0RQL were firsts for these remote summits.
73 to all,
FT-817ND plus Microset VUR30 dual band 2m / 70cms linear – 20W nom.
Dualband 2m / 70cms yagi (5 and 8 elements), 5m 5D-FB semi rigid coax, 5m pole, 12AH SLAB.
Total weight incl survival kit, water, food, etc: 15kg
FT-817ND, 5W nom, Doublet and tuner, 7m pole, 4AH SLAB.
Total weight incl survival kit, water, food, etc: 11kg.
Total distance walked – 12.5 km taking a total of 4 hours and 50 minutes
Banc Llechwedd-mawr, MW-007, 560m asl
8.5 deg C, rising to 10 deg C, cold westerly wind
60m SSB – 19 contacts
2m SSB – 17 contacts (1 S2S), 2m FM – 3 contacts, 70cms SSB – 1 contact
Drosgol, MW-008, 550m asl
10 deg C, dropping to 8 deg C, cold westerly wind
60m SSB – 23 contacts, 80m SSB – 6 contacts
2m SSB – 20 contacts (3 S2S), 2m FM – 1 contact, 70cms SSB – 1 contact
Total distance driven - 362 miles