G4YSS Activity Report for G/NP-001 & G/NP-018 on 09-01-13
Cross Fell and Nine Standards Rigg on 160; 80 & 2m.
G4YSS using GX0OOO/P with William & Jess (Will’s Spaniel)
All times UTC.
EQPT: HF-QRO: IC706-2G. Link-dipole 80-60-40-(30)-20, with coils for 160m.
5m H/B CFC mast with 1m end sticks. 8.8 Ah Li-Po battery for each summit.
VHF-QRP: IC-E90 Four Band (6-4-2-70) H/H.
William’s declaration ‘I need a mountain’ was the prime mover in this case. As for me; I was suffering from Bronchitis which started in early December and was not improving much. With nil winter bonus to my name, it had got to the stage of ‘kill or cure’ so I decided to take the chance provided we could get a reasonable weather forecast.
Will suggested Nine Standards Rigg - a hill he had read about and dearly wanted to see. My vote was to precede it with Cross Fell while there was no snow on it, unlike last winter’s activation, near the end of December 2011. For these ‘medium distance’ summits, a 4am start is usually called for but we later agreed to bring this forward to 03:30 to give a better chance for Mark G0VOF to chase on 160m before he went to work. Will’s response to this was, ‘That’s fine; it’ll be lighter at the end of the day.’
We had originally scheduled this trip for the 8th but the MWIS forecast for the 9th stated, ‘Dry with 10 mph winds, cloud free summits and 2 degrees C.’ A much better day. Sunrise and sunset were at 08:25 and 16:09 respectively.
We left Scarborough in Will’s car at 03:30 arriving high up on the maintenance road for Gt.Dunn Fell’s National Air Traffic Control (NATS) unmanned radar station at 06:00. We were driving in low cloud well before reaching the parking place next to the locked barrier at NY 7163 3160 at 760m ASL. Will took great care driving up and was surprised at just how high this radar road was delivering us. I think most SOTA activators now walk from here.
Last winter I was looking for inspiration sufficient to exit a nice warm car into a strong cold wind, lying snow, pitch blackness and hill fog but this time we only had the fog, darkness and a breeze of 10 mph or so. With sunrise still more than two hours away, the three of us set off up the road at a good pace; me coughing and wheezing, at 06:22. The headlamps bounced back in the hill fog and our ‘just for the record’ photos were whited-out by the effect of the camera flash on cloud.
In due course we reached the Radar Station, turning right off the road immediately before the entrance. The next section, round the back fence of the station and down the hill, is where I often go horribly wrong in these conditions. The station fence was barely visible from 5 metres range and yet again a minor navigational error needed correction back onto the path, which shortly became paved. Will asked, ‘Is it like this all the way to Cross Fell?’ I had to disappoint him with the news that several boggy or flooded path sections lay ahead. In addition there was wet verglas on the slabs in places. All too often this is encountered on this man made path to Cross Fell and care was needed today.
There are certain advantages in not being able to see where you are going. Hills only exist for a few feet ahead and that seems to help psychologically. Despite the darkness and fog, the switchback journey over Great and Little Dunn Fells was completed in 1 hr 23 minutes which compares reasonably well with just over an hour in good conditions. Moreover, the early start and quick drive had combined to place us at the summit more than an hour earlier than alerted. We were due at 9am, so was 07:45 actually too early? We took our time setting up and made ourselves as comfortable as is possible in situations such as these.
CROSS FELL, G/NP-001, 893m, 8Pts, 07:45 to 09:54, 0 to 1 Deg C, 15 mph westerly wind, low-cloud with icing conditions. No lying snow. (IO84SQ, WAB NY63.) Orange (EE) mobile phone coverage on the summit plateau and at Gt.Dunn & Little Dunn Fell summits.
The dipole went up easily today but I noticed that ice had formed on the mast sections while carrying them up. Freezing fog is bad news for Top Band operations because the loading coils are sufficient to make the wire sag without the added weight of gradually accumulating ice. Windborne ice has sunk a few trawlers and it has also sunk my dipole to ground level, bending the mast double on a number of occasions. Tuning on 160 is critical and decidedly ground proximity dependent, so the only answer is to clear the ice manually and on a regular basis.
Will sat in Cross Fell’s substantial but slightly dilapidated shelter for an hour but prepared to leave due to concerns, that despite her little doggy coat, Jess was chilling in the cold and damp. At that time I was not even through the 160m CW session.
1.832 CW - 7 QSO’s:
At first the VSWR was well below 1.3:1 then it would intermittently rise to full scale without warning and eventually stay there. I put this down to a combination of water and ice surrounding the coils and particularly their connections but it would have to be tolerated or dealt with manually. VSWR remained rock steady at 1.3 in the afternoon on NP18 when sunshine prevailed and the connections were dry. Usually when an activator’s antenna system is intermittent the chasers hear it as fast QSB.
I knew G4OBK, the station every Top Band chaser uses as a 160m band condition yardstick, would be absent. Phil was activating Irish summits after becoming a SOTA Mountain Goat there just the day before, so it was Mark G0VOF who answered one of my CQ’s at 08:18. Far from worrying I would make him late for work, I later discovered that Mark had needed to curtail his morning shower to get to the radio quickly. What enthusiasm.
In the dawn light, band conditions were quite good with incoming reports ranging from 339 to 599. Stations worked were: G0VOF, G3RUA, G4SSH, GW4ZPL, G0NES, EI7CC and EI2CL – a good start to the day. Power was 100W except G0VOF – 50W.
1.843 SSB – Nil QSO’s:
I may as well admit it. I forgot! I am not accustomed to doing SSB on 160m – it’s difficult enough with CW – but I had alerted this mode and should have followed it up. William was about to leave at the time and I was checking he had set the GPS up correctly and I was also clearing ice from the antenna wire. It just went out of my head. Apologies – especially to John G3WFK near Manchester, who had been looking forward to his first 160m SOTA chase which I hope to provide on another occasion.
3.557 CW - 10 QSO’s:
Roy G4SSH was swiftly back to a CQ followed by F5UBH and F5SQA. After these the list reads: G0NUP; G0TDM; LA8BCA; DK7ZH; GW4ZPL; EI2CL; and a very hard won QSO with G4ASA. The latter was coming in at 219 and that was in the QSB peaks. It took 5 minutes just to log his suffix but we got the QSO done in the end. Power was 40 Watts.
Just after beginning on 3.557, I had to abandon the rig and call out to Will who was on the point of disappearing into fog whilst heading the wrong way off the hill. Luckily he heard the shout and corrected the error.
After a summer vacation, 80m was ‘back on line’ and very much in fashion as a SOTA vehicle, at least with me. ‘SSB’ sent five times or more evoked the usual response from Roy G4SSH who posted the QSY.
3.724 SSB - 11 QSO’s:
Before Roy’s spot could take effect, Don G0RQL had parked himself on 3.724 to await my arrival. To my mind, this is a good chaser habit because an assessment of channel occupancy has already taken place prior to the activator’s arrival and furthermore CQ’s are avoided. A QSO ensues immediately and that allows other chasers to find the activator and net on more quickly.
Stations worked after G0RQL were: G6ODU; GM7UAU; G8ADD; G3WFK; M0MDA; GW4ZPL; MW3PZO; G4SSH; MM0USU and G4ZRP. I think about 50 Watts were used.
145.400 FM - 4 QSO’s:
After half assembling the 2m half-wave vertical, that procedure was abandoned in favour of a token ‘rubber duck effort.’ Why? By this time Will and his dog had been gone for nearly an hour and I didn’t want to keep them waiting too long at the car. I had already done 80m SSB which covered the speech mode and in my experience, considering it’s almost 3000 foot height, NP1 is a mediocre QTH for modestly equipped VHF working. I must qualify this by saying that this assessment was made in the first two or three years of SOTA.
Standing head and shoulders above the shelter wall with frigid windblown fog impinging on a bronchitic chest, a quick CQ using the IC-E90 and its attached antenna brought in MM1MPB – Mark in Annan (59 / 59) and G1OHH – Sue in Lancaster (51/ 51). John G0TDM tail-ended these (57 / 51) QSP’ing the fact that Geoff G4WHA/ M was on frequency. After climbing up onto the centre part of the shelter and with the rig held high, I managed to work Geoff with some difficulty apparently due to wind noise – something the IC-E90 seems particularly prone to. Reports were (59 / 41). Power was 5 Watts.
It was now time to climb down and get the gloves back on, after which a further CQ went unanswered. It crossed my mind to try 4m FM but it would have meant changing the antenna. With Will now an hour ahead of me, I couldn’t spare another minute on the off-chance of maybe one QSO on 4.
NP1 to the CAR:
The re-ascent of Great and Little Dunn Fells on the retreat is a bit of a pain but the journey was completed in 62 minutes arriving at 10:56 about half an hour after Will. Keeping somebody waiting 30 minutes is perhaps acceptable but worse was to come at the end of the day. At least now the sun was out though we had seen precious little of it on NP1. That was a pity, Cross Fell can be stunning on a good day with views of the radar dome or looking down on cloud filling the Eden Valley. It was a real shame that Will missed the true character of the Pennine Chain’s highest mountain.
On the way back I was hoping to be the ‘hero’ who could reunite Terry (G0VWP) with his lost spectacles. After checking the route, searching around the Radar Station sign and even in the cattle grid, nothing was found. On the drive to the next summit I worked Terry on NP16 with the H/H from inside the car and told him the bad news. He just laughed, declaring that he now had contact lenses! Except for us, NP1 had remained deserted throughout.
DRIVE AROUND TO NP18:
The drive via Kirby Stephen in sunshine took a good half hour and we were walking away to re-engage with SOTA by 12:03.
ROUTE to NP18:
From the B6270 at NY 8084 0429, a path goes all the way via NY 8096 0499, a guidepost at NY 8138 0529, a beck at NY 8157 0564 to NY 8233 0618 where you choose the trig point or the Nine Standards as your final destination. The ruin at NY 8251 0651 provides shelter from the wind and a seat comprising flat rocks. The path is boggy in places and contrasts with the area around the nine stone stacks which is rocky. The first view of the latter is from the new memorial cairn.
The three of us climbed steadily in the sunshine, negotiating the many bogs. G6DCW Jim and M1DCU on WOTA LDW-055, were worked on the way up and once again from the activation zone, as an S2S. Will wasn’t disappointed with the sight as we topped out.
NINE STANDARDS RIGG, G/NP-018, 662m, 4pts, 13:23 to 16:30. 4 deg.C, 7 mph wind. Bright sunshine. (IO84UK, WAB NY80). Orange (EE) mobile phone coverage from start point to summit. (The Nine Standards were rebuilt in 2005)
145 FM - 8 QSO’s:
After reworking G6DCW and M1DCU on 145.300, we took our time with photography then moved to the ruin to erect the dipole. There was no rush as we were 90 minutes earlier than the alerted time. It was worth pausing to take in the views and the fact that the sun was shining, dispelled any urgency to begin the SOTA proper.
Next up were 145.525 MHz S2S QSO’s with Colin G4UXH/P and George M0SSD/P both on WOTA LDW-200. At this time (14:05) Will and Jess left the summit for the car. This left me in a quandary. I wanted to stay as late as possible for better Top Band conditions without lagging too far behind my companion. Will said that this was OK - he would rest in the car. In the end he had a long wait there but some of that was taken up changing his clothes after he’d been ‘sucked into’ one of the many bogs on the path down.
Next came a CQ on 145.5 and QSY to 145.300 where I worked G4WHA/A; G0TDM and MM1MPB. Finally a QSY and S2S with G0EVV/P on Dale Head G/LD-020 rounded this session off. David seemed to know the SSEG club call GX0OOO which he thinks he remembered working from Pakistan as AP2JZB around 2001. Maybe he meant SARS not SSEG? For the last four QSO’s I used the IC-E90 with 5 Watts to the half-wave vertical for 2m, attached to the side of one of the smaller standards with a bungee wedged in a gap between stones.
3.557 CW - 8 QSO’s:
The HF station was already set up which just left a ‘phone-a-spot’ call to G4SSH. I called Roy first using about 40 Watts and we were both surprised at how well 80m was working only a couple of hours past midday. Next into the log was Kevin G0NUP, living in the next village to Roy and alerted by him on 2m FM.
Then followed: G3VXW; DL1FU (599 / 449); GW4ZPL; M0RCP; EI2CL and GI4SRQ. I thought this a fair selection of distances for 80m at this time of day and the channel was clear to me. It did come as a surprise therefore when the QRG dried up after these eight. Maybe because it was a weekday or were the chasers busy elsewhere? There were plenty of other SOTA’s to work at the time. Probably fewer ops erect aerials for 80 than for 40 or perhaps the band has been closed right through the summer and they just lost interest in it. 80 is not everyone’s favourite but it’s certainly one of mine particularly after what’s been happening on 40 in the last 6 months or so. The session lasted 12 minutes.
3.718 SSB - 9 QSO’s:
The usual QRG of 3.724 was ‘bunged up’ for a few kHz either side but a phone call to Roy got me a spot on 3.718. It turned out to be a really clear channel. In fact Roger G0TRB answered my CQ on there before the phone call so he must either be given credit for combing the bands or maybe he was just lucky to bag WAB NY80 in this way.
After Roger there followed: Bob G6ODU; GM7UAU; M0MDA; G3WFK; M6YLH (Hazel); G7TAS; G8ADD and MW6GWR. All were good signal strengths with the 5W from Hazel’s FT817ND (actually my own 817 at my QTH in Scarborough) particularly good at 57 on the meter. She was crystal clear, almost like FM. Perhaps the YL voice helped and the distance was just right for 80m.
1.832 CW - 7 QSO’s:
Even in mid winter 3pm is too early for Top Band to propagate far, so hearing RA4LW splashing onto the channel from just below came as a surprise. After nudging up a little, I tried a few CQ’s to no avail. Eventually Roy G4SSH heard me and we exchanged at 229 each way. There was QSB on his signal but background noise was low. Roy later revised his report to 559 when we exchanged again half an hour later.
Despite being spotted by G4SSH, most of my efforts just went into CQ’ing with little result. After another 10 minutes DJ5AV called me but I was not sufficiently confident with the timing of the exchange to enter Mike into the log. He was a solid 579 to me with 539 coming back so I will have to think about that one.
A further 10 minutes of CQ’s, again at full power, brought in Mike G4BLH followed by Kevin G0NUP after another similar period. I was not too concerned about power; I had 8.8 Ah and had expended less than expected on 80m but I was worried about time. On the one hand I wanted time to pass quickly so that band conditions would improve but equally I needed to get off the mountain and back to Will waiting patiently (or otherwise) in his car on the road 2 miles away. Another consideration was the possibility of an S2S with G3RDQ but David was still dealing with a pileup on 10 Megs.
Another 10 minutes of CQ’ing brought new hope that the ‘crescendo’ was approaching when Lothar DL3HXX easily worked me but nothing was heard for a while until G4AMT and M0BKV called in. Both were worked but where were the regular 160m chasers? In the end I worked just one more station G4FGJ. Incoming reports for the last four QSO’s ranged from 339 to 579 but it had taken the better part of an hour and a lot of battery power to work just seven QSO’s on 160 CW. This was not entirely unexpected because it was still daylight at the end of it and I didn’t have the time to wait for good conditions to arrive with darkness.
1.843 SSB - 3 QSO’s:
Another phone call to Roy produced a spot for 160m SSB. I wasn’t too worried about time taken for this mode because it was just a token event which was not expected to produce results. I had already been calling CQ on the off chance on 1.843 SSB between each station worked on 1.832 CW in the hope that John G3WFK might be monitoring.
After ‘pulling teeth’ in the CW mode the surprise when I received an immediate reply to my first SSB CQ of the day can be imagined. This was Brian G8ADD in the Birmingham area. We exchanged at 55 both ways and I copied every word. Brian was followed by MW0IML and GM7UAU. After all the hard graft on CW, I had worked three stations in as many minutes with SSB. Obviously I should try it more often! Further unanswered CQ’s on both 1.843 and 1.832 rounded things off and I don’t think there was much left in the battery. 80 Watts were used for the SSB session.
The sun was setting as I took down the dipole and beat a retreat past the memorial cairn at 16:30, with the headlamp ready for action. I glanced over to the distant trig point where I had spent a memorable new year 2004 to 2005 in a small ridge tent bagging double points and wished that I was as fit now as I was then. The GPS would be needed to minimise descent time, simply by avoiding losing the path but now I found that it was not working. In fact it found not a single satellite in the 35 minutes between summit and road. I had to do it all by memory, running through bogs; the latter part in darkness.
Will had become a little concerned, mentioning to his wife Julie on the phone that, ‘John hasn’t shown up yet.’ Just afterwards he spotted my light on the hillside. By the time I got there at 17:05, Will and Jess had been back at the car for 90 minutes and the spaniel had spent almost all of the time sleeping off 10 miles of rough walking. I threw the rucksack into the boot and we immediately set off for home, removing my boots as we travelled.
The drive home via Swaledale, Reeth, Leyburn, Thirsk and Sutton Bank took from 17:06 to 20:06.
Being early on NP1 ensured reasonable propagation on 160m and signals were good enough to work into Dublin (best distance on 160 from NP1).
I still believe that SSB would be almost hopeless on 160 in full daylight, except for line of sight stations, yet the SSB mode yielded results again from NP18 just prior to sunset. Considering I alerted it the day before, sadly 1.843 SSB was overlooked by me on NP1 in the morning. In my defence, I would say that there are many stresses and distractions that can affect the performance of an activator, especially in poor WX so I think that alerts should be regarded as being ‘for guidance only.’
We had both summits completely to ourselves and met no other walkers all day. This is good on the one hand but not from a safety angle. Cross Fell, requiring a 3 mile walk-in through a combination of fog and complete darkness, over bog and ice coated pathway slabs, needed care.
The oft experienced general discomfort caused by cold and damp winter conditions, characterised the activation of NP1. The icing conditions which required the antenna wire to be cleared several times and caused SWR problems, just added to the unpleasantness. All our equipment was soggy afterwards and the ice still clung to the antenna’s break points when it was deployed on NP18 some 4 hours later.
In contrast, Nine Standards Rigg was a real pleasure in afternoon sunshine and a light though cold wind. The summit is visually pleasing and photography was a must. However, ‘It is better to walk up towards sunrise than down towards darkness.’ Had Will not been waiting down below, I would have remained on the summit until well after dark to work Top Band as I have done in the past. With a useless GPS and resorting to map and compass, the descent on a boggy path that zigs around and is easily lost, would have been a lot more difficult in fully dark conditions.
As may be expected at this time of year, 80m worked well from both summits early and late. Once again it was proved that the use of 80m for activating need not exclude overseas chasers. It is also a much more easy-going band than 40 has lately become. Nevertheless, the number of chasers worked versus the time taken on the air, was disappointing.
Fitness wise, I think Will found this easier than I did; he takes his dog for a long walk at 06:00 each morning. Sure I had a long running infection but Christmas weight gain and a month’s worth of sitting around coughing or scanning old family documents and photos were the more significant factors. Getting out of the car when we arrived home took some effort.
ASCENT & DISTANCE:
G/NP-001 Cross Fell: 414m (1,358ft) ascent / 9.3 km (5.8 miles) walked.
G/NP-018 Nine Standards Rigg: 172m (564ft) ascent, 6.8 km (4.3 miles) walked.
TOTAL: 586m (1,923ft) ascent, 16.1 km (10 miles) walked.
Miles Driven (by Will): 242.
18 activator points.
14 on 160m -CW.
3 on 160m -SSB.
18 on 80m -CW.
20 on 80m -SSB.
12 on 2m -FM.
TOTAL: 67 QSO’s. (NP1 - 32 and NP18 - 35)
Battery utilisation: Not tested.
Summit time: 5 hr - 16 min. (2 hour - 9 min plus 3 hour - 7 min.)
Walking time: 4 hr - 20 min. (2hr-25min + 1hr-55min)
Driving time: 6hr. (2hr-30min + 30min + 3hr)
Home to home: 16 hr - 36 min.
Thanks to all stations worked and for telephone messaging / spotting via G4SSH. Also for spots from: G0VOF; G4SSH; G0TDM, G3XQE; MM1MPB; EI2CL; GM4WHA and G0TRB.
73, John G4YSS (Using SSEG Club-Call GX0OOO/P)