Activation Report for Grasmoor G/LD-009 & Grisedale Pike G/LD-015 on 12-Feb-09.
Grasmoor & Grisedale Pike from Braithwaite, QRO.
G4YSS, using SSEG Club-call, GX0OOO/P, unaccompanied.
All times: UTC on 12-02-09.
The Ingleborough webcam implied much more snow on the NPs, with less and at a higher altitude shown for Skiddaw. On that basis I chose the Lake District for attention. In an attempt to compensate for my non-appearance for fully 5 weeks due to mild but persistent sore throat (twice) the WX, my right foot, an ‘enthusiasm gap’ and other factors, I had every intention of activating 4 or at worst 3 summits today. The two Mell Fells were added last year and one at least of these handy 2-pointers was in my sights for today. By lunchtime, it was clear that the WX had conspired against me; the forecast had quite simply been wide of the mark so I gave up on the idea of a third SOTA.
Left a frosty Scarborough at 03:26; arriving Braithwaite at 06:06. The A66 had big heaps of snow at the sides but the roads were clear after Pickering. A start was made in darkness from the parking area NY 2271 2397 at 06:25 then via the track to Coledale Hause and Col 722. Coledale Beck was low today and the head-torch was required only for the first 45 minutes. This time there was no sunrise visible. Today the snow-line was met at 530m and there was slippery ice on some paths. The going wasn’t too bad because some areas on the ascent had blown bare whilst others had a covering of old icy snow drifts with newer powder over them. Most of this iced snow wasn’t the really smooth type. The wind had removed most of the snow from the extensive top also but there was drifting in gullies. A well-defined dirt path serves LD9 by running 1000m along the summit plateau’s southern lip but to its right (north) there are smaller but more efficient paths that can be followed. The bottom line is that you don’t really need a path; it’s easy and a treat to walk anywhere along this flat top.
Without the sunshine of a previous visit, the view from the ice-encrusted summit shelter was a bit dull today. Nevertheless GD was clearly visible, as were the snow-caped fells of the High Stile and Great Gable ranges to the south as seen over Crummock Water; directly below. Once again the 5m mast had to be wedged awkwardly into the dilapidated stonework of the summit shelter and bungeed in place. LD9’s top consists of sparse grass amongst shaley rocks but because the surface was frozen solid, the dipole end-sticks posed a problem. No impression could be made in the ground and there was little alternative but to carry several heavy rocks to both ends of the aerial and build two small support structures, which all took time. Gloves could not be doffed for long either. I regretted leaving the ice-axe in the car; it would have been ideal for bashing holes in the hard ground but that was a decision made with eyes open.
GRASMOOR, LD-009, 852m ASL, 8Pts, 08:22 to 10:27. Minus 4 deg.C, 10 mph wind increasing to 30 mph by the end. Generally 2 to 4cm of lying snow with drifting. Overcast; no low-cloud. (LOC: IO84IN, WAB: NY12.)
Last year I enjoyed the weight advantage of QRP but for 2 years prior to that my choice was to carry HF QRO and lead-acid around these two. Today I still had the 100 Watt IC706 but the power supply was Li-Po and sufficient for two summits. 160m is given the first available slot so as to make maximum use of ionospheric conditions and the alert time was about right. Nevertheless, with a 2-hour walk-in for this one, the ‘D’ layer had plenty of time to become established.
A 70W CQ on 1.832 soon brought back EI2CL. There was no struggling either way; Mike was hearing me well today but I thought it might have made a difference that I was overlooking the Irish Sea. This theory did not prevail for long; second into the log with a fine signal was Frank G3RMD in Cheltenham confirming that the ‘D’ layer was having a lie-in. The usual routine was soon settled into: G0TDM (G7GQL – GX0ANT) G4OBK (about 30 over S-nine!) GW0DSP, EI7CC, G4BLH, G3RDQ and an almost unrecognizable ‘G4CPA’ made it 9 ops in 12 minutes. It was a good start.
Starting with Roy G4SSH, 3.557 brought in 12 chasers including overseas stations Frid DL1FU and DF1BN. Pity there weren’t more of these. Signals were strong and about 30W were used from this juncture onwards. The session took about 15 minutes.
Phil G4OBK found me on 3.721 and after that there was quite a list to take. I hope this method is acceptable to chasers; at least they know they’ve been heard. I tried not to keep people waiting by talking too long and in 16 minutes by 09:50, I had 19 SSB ops logged. Arthur GW1LDY called in near the end but 100W could not get back to him and he ‘escaped’ once again; probably a victim of local noise; a problem rarely encountered /P.
In the ever increasing wind and low temperature, it took a while to pack up the HF gear so it wasn’t until 10:16 after fumbling with the small IC-E90 H/H and its antenna, that I was ready give 70 MHz a try. I didn’t expect much; certainly not Mike G4BLH or Dave G6CRV down in Lancashire but a CQ on 70.450 did at least bring an immediate response in the form of Lee M1LSD in Carlisle. At first, he could make nothing of my transmission because of wind noise but after I sat down and we eventually got the details across.
Just as ‘advanced shivering’ was starting to set in, SOTA chaser John MW1FGQ called from Flintshire, giving my half-Watt signal a 51 RS. As well as its owner, the cold had got to the rig’s (freshly charged) battery and it had switched automatically onto low power. This is the second time this has happened and it wasn’t destined to be the only battery failure of the day attributable to cold. The camera went the same way, as did one of the mobile phones. Though swapping pockets helped the camera, the phone stayed dead until the next day.
I’m afraid I have been negligent in not completing a J-Pole for 4m. Mike G4BLH gave me a design but try as I may, I haven’t managed to resonate it correctly yet. That said I would not have wished to deploy it after 2 hours of freezing conditions it took to set up & work HF. I did get as far as making an adaptor for the supplied 2m-band duck. By installing a socket at the top, I am now able to extend it ‘down’ to 70 MHz with a piece of stainless steel welding rod. This obviates the need to carry the supplied 4m Duck which is actually quite heavy but one cannot expect much from this setup.
Seeing anybody on Grasmoor at the times I usually visit is quite rare but just then a couple with two dogs came up to ask what I was doing. When I explained, they said ‘you must be keen’ then asked who I’d been talking to and how far away. Upon packing up, I discovered that my callsign list had gone missing. By now the southerly wind was starting to whip snow into the air. This had made the log a bit soggy and it must also have ‘stolen’ my paperwork. A brief look ‘over the edge’ failed to reveal anything so it was off to Grisedale Pike; normally a walk of about 55 minutes. Because of ice hidden by new snow, some care was needed on the descent to the main path at ‘Col 722.’ After that it was OK and whilst walking and chewing on my lunch, I started to see a few more people. Grisedale Pike is 15 times more popular than Grasmoor.
GRISEDALE PIKE, LD-015, 791m ASL, 6pts, 11:23 to 12:52. Minus 2 deg C and rising, 40 mph wind increasing, with 60 mph gusts, 5 cm lying snow, with drifts or bare rock in places and largely snow-free lower flanks. Overcast; no low-cloud but viz affected by blown snow. (LOC: IO84JO, WAB: NY21).
It was the route off this SOTA that I had lost sleep over the previous night, rather than the anticipated difficulty of activating it on HF. The ‘peaky’ top means that you can’t readily accommodate an 80m dipole and the nature of the surface; shaley rocks with little intervening grass, makes it quite hard to set up at the best of times. The frozen ground on LD9 had been a bad omen for LD15, which is just 9m short of 8-point status but I’d managed before in January and February and would do so again. However, the target and difficulty of antenna erection was initially accepted on the basis of a mountain wind forecast of just ‘10 to 15 mph.’ The conditions encountered, though well within past experience, were an unscheduled and added confounder to an already difficult task. There were one or two people around but nowhere near the numbers that I have seen here in the past.
The strong south-westerly wind was increasing; it was snowing and nobody was staying more than a couple of minutes. The sky to the east looked moody and the surrounding summits were less clearly visible. The priority was to find somewhere to sit but unfortunately the wind was blowing precisely ‘long-ridge’ and though I walked as far as 100m NE, there was no respite to be had. I stood with my back to the blast on loose rock trying to work out what to do. The wind tore at the lying snow, whipping it into a plume at the steep edge. There were only two options; a ‘scaled down’ HF activation without 160m or 2m FM only.
I decided to have another look at the summit and struggled back up; blown to a standstill once or twice. There was a small snow-drift 25m NE of the top but it would provide scant relief and it was at the edge of a very steep 1800 foot slope. After enough attempts to erect the full 5m mast, I opted to lay the antenna on the ground! I knew from experience that it would work to some degree because one time my mast blew over but I was still able to finish a QSO. The clincher was that so long as I could hear the incomers in that low-noise environment, I had QRO available for transmission. After putting small rocks on the end strings I hit on the idea of a short mast consisting of the top two 1.2m sections. It would at least give the current section of the aerial a fighting chance. Finishing up with a 2.4m centre support using the rucksack as a base and less than half the aerial ‘off the deck’ was the best of a bad job. Just getting up to the remote ends of the dipole was hellish and I was blown off my feet twice because of the unstable loose and icy rocks on the steep incline. I dug out enough snow to make a seat but the stuff was too dry and powdery to cooperate.
As is traditional for winter SOTA ops, I sat with my back to the wind facing the IC706 in the rucksack. This resulted in snow being blasted past me and onto the rig every time a control had to be accessed. Quite soon, the radio couldn’t be seen for white. On the plus side, I would have the best possible excuse for the succession of 599 RST’s, I was about to start giving out.
Calling CQ with a power of 30W (left set from LD9) proved to be a waste of time and one look at the VSWR would have set me cringing under normal circumstances. In this case, there was no hesitation and the power was increased to full. At this juncture, I cared little for the rig; it had built-in shutdown circuitry anyway. The task in hand was to get the job done ASAP before I or any more of my gear went over the side or the snow-covered rig packed in. At least it was noon (as advertised) and hopefully chasers would be ready to run.
First up was G3RMD. Frank may well have been bemused by the ‘599 – dit-dit’ approach but it was at least gratifying to know that there was enough RF ‘leaking’ from this bizarre set up to make contacts. With a few 339 RST’s coming back but an equal number of 579’s or better, I managed to work 14 in 11 minutes. The limiting factor was the log. It was covered in snow and the paper was getting weaker and harder to write on with the pencil. I know there are better ways of logging but I like to keep every original log for reference. With most of the wire touching rocks or snow, I was ready to accept limited success but the reality was that I’d managed to exceed the 80m CW tally for LD9 total by two! Not only that, Frid DL1FU and Dan ON4ON had both managed QSO’s on 80m at noon!
It was lucky that a space near the normal QRG of 3.724 was available. I was in no mood for the niceties of avoiding every tiny sound that might be a QSO so QRL’d just once and away. A loud reassuring voice came back; Phil OBK. Eleven more followed with the need for expediency clearly understood. Not as good as LD9 but OK considering.
Despite what I’d said about limiting the process, the rig was still working, the battery still had power and I wasn’t feeling too cold; just uncomfortable and a little concerned about the continued tenability of my ‘perch.’ Apart from the map-case I was sitting on, everything else was rammed into the snow for security. Frank G3RMD and then Phil G4OBK heard the announcement on 80m. ‘160m in 5 minutes.’ On switching to 1.832 CW, I could hear Phil but could not get back to him with loading coils still inside the rucksack. In a rush to get onto 160, I made the mistake of jumping up without ramming the map case behind the rucksack. Rising and turning into wind, I heard a ‘flicking’ sound but the combined sit-matt / map case was already 50m away and travelling like an express train. It vanished over the snow-clad edge and I knew instinctively that I would not be seeing that again.
Fitting the coils to the dipole was tricky in that wind but at least no reaching up was required. As on 80m, the whole antenna would have a colossal mismatch but the token effort of fitting these coils and adjusting them as far HF as they would go seemed to make sense, even though their added weight brought even more wire to ground level.
With the SWR at full-scale and a slim chance of working even Phil G4OBK, I called CQ with the rig ‘set to’ 80 Watts. To my surprise, John G0TDM was straight back and within a minute, a 33km QSO was made with Penrith at 559 / 529. Phil did eventually follow suit but not without difficulty. As is often the case, he came in at 599 today but could not hear his report at first. Increasing power from 80W to ‘full up’ was rather meaningless in the scheme of thinks but eventually the QSO was confirmed with the sidetone beginning to wobble and 229 coming back my way. Fair’s fair though. Phil did a great job with a midday path of 164km between him and an excuse for an aerial at my end.
One more CQ brought nil, so it was now a case of packing up and getting safely off. It was easier said than done and the wire got reeled-in any old how. I left the wild, deserted top without attaching the mast sections to the pack; they would be handy on the steep descent in these conditions. The first 1 km of the descent down the sharp NE ridge from Grisedale Pike to Braithwaite is very steep. The feeling of exposure is quite noticeable in high winds and / or on snow & ice. Thankfully it was mainly consolidated snow of the non-lethal variety but care was needed and the mast poles came in handy. Had it been too bad, the planned option was to backtrack to Coledale Hause and retrace steps down the valley but this would double the distance.
Once down onto frozen grass, I phoned G4SSH and cancelled the Mell Fells. Roy told me that it was snowing hard in Scarborough so judging by that and the unexpected changes in the WX, I might be lucky to get home. I met someone on the way down. She had got near the summit, seen the snow plume, felt the wind and turned back having been spoilt with Helvellyn 2-days before in still, sunny conditions, on snow. She was a mountain leader and lived nearby. She told me that the Thirlmere approach to Helvellyn had been very icy and she’d needed crampons. Her car was now next to mine & we arrived there at 13:54.
The drive home to Scarborough:
Setting off at 14:00, it took almost 4 hours to drive the 135 miles cross-country. The Mell Fells had snow ‘down to their ‘feet’ as I passed them in steady rain. There was snow on the road at the top of the A66 and a car in the ditch but no evidence of any serious problems until east of the A1. It was snowing in Thirsk and Radio York announced that Sutton Bank was closed and to take the ‘Caravan Route.’ I ignored this and the old Fiesta with its heavy diesel engine over the drive wheels made short work of the notorious hill despite a covering of dirty snow. This meant I had the next 10 miles of A170 completely to my self and so was able to drive along the straight road at a steady 40mph.
It wasn’t nearly so much fun after the Sproxton junction and through Helmsley where I encountered crawling traffic (once down to 12 mph) that had to be ‘dealt with.’ By Kirkbymoorside the joke was on me; with Wrelton Cliff blocked to well west of Sinnington. Going through the village made it possible to leapfrog a lot of this stationary traffic and I was then able to ‘QSY’ to what I call the ‘Wrelton Bipass.’ This involves driving down tiny lanes which today had an untreated 4 inches of lying snow on them and then via Marton to rejoin the A170 at Pickering. After getting up Thornton Le Dale hill without problem, except for a ‘rear-wheel driver’ in trouble’ near the top, it was necessary to do the same in Wilton which was also blocked by cars at all angles. These ‘bipass’ lanes were smaller still but they cut out troublesome inclines at both Allerston and Ebberston, bringing you out at Snainton which is flat. From there the drive home was simple and the whole experience enjoyable. I was home by 17:56 which was 2 minutes before my XYL, who had spent the entire time it had taken me to drive from Pickering, getting out of Morrison’s car park! It was handy that I’ve travelled this route to work and back for 32 years and know most of the dodges. Even so, I count myself fortunate and all’s well that ends well! As always, the problem wasn’t entirely due to the snow but to some of the under-confident people who drive over it.
Home early at 17:56. 270 miles clocked for the day.
LD9 & LD15: 15.6 km (9.8 miles) and 1036m (3400 ft) of ascent.
QSO’s: Total 70 comprising:
80m CW: 26
80m SSB: 31
160m CW: 11
4m FM: 2
G/LD-009 & G/LD-015: IC706-2G, 8.8 Ah Li-Po, 82% utilised.
Both summits: Link dipole for 80-60-40-20 (160-coils),
4 section - 5m H/B CFC mast. (2 sections only for LD15.)
Reserve rig: IC-E90 6-4-2-70 H/H (5W.)
4m band aerial: A 2m rubber duck with 26.5 cm extension rod.
(QRO pack-weight: 11.5 kg.)
These two mountains lend themselves well to pairing and can be done from Braithwaite or Lanthwaite Farm with free parking and little difference in time, distance or effort. The choice of LD over NP was made on the basis of snow cover and weather predictions. The unexpected and worsening conditions encountered on LD15 whilst by no means exceptional compared with past experience reduced the viability of this type of summit with its shape, ASL, snow conditions and difficult surface (even in summer) below a comfortable level for HF operations. Care was needed but there was no greater danger than can be expected generally for SOTAing in the wilds of winter. There are plenty of occasions when it’s best for activators to ‘get going’ ASAP and the cooperation of chasers to that end was much appreciated today.
Only 70 QSO’s for the day on 2 summits. Steve G1INK would laugh his socks off!
Thanks to all stations worked and to G3RMD, G4OBK, G4SSH and EI2CL for SOTAWatch spotting & to G4SSH for liaison.
BCNU SN, I hope.
73, John G4YSS (using SSEG GX0OOO/P.)