G4YSS Actn. Rprts: G/LD-013, LD-024, LD-028 & LD-034, 28-02-08.
(Old Man of Coniston, Pike of Blisco, Harter Fell & Hard Knott on 28-Feb-08.)
Using SSEG Club-call, GX0OOO/P.
Link-dipole & 5m mast.
Rigs / power: See each summit summary.
Becoming almost physically sick at the sight and dangers of the A66, the A684 and to some extent the A65 these days, has had a further effect on my SOTA habits. I find myself applying with ever increasing stringency, my own rule, which evolved in the early days. It’s something like, maximum activity versus the minimum number of expeditions. When the prospect of my worst winter turnout ever is added to the formula, out pops the answer and SOTA becomes a series of semi-endurance tests, with some (like Gable, Kirkfell & Pillar in 2007) being grim indeed. This outing wasn’t grim; the WX was good but two bad nights preceded it (nothing new here) one caused by an earthquake 60 miles away and another by anticipation. Thus a big mental effort, caused by fatigue was required to add LD34 at the end.
Blisco, Harter and Hard Knott (LD’s: 24, 28 & 34) are a convenient grouping, which I seem to do annually, often with my ‘walking mate’ William, who gradually added a teenage daughter, a dog and lately a boyfriend (his daughter’s, I hasten to say) to the mix. Often, as the day unfolds we tend to progressively lose members of the party (starting with Will’s daughter) until by the end I am left with LD34 on my own. It means that I have no meaningful history for these three and little to go by for accurate alerting.
This year I was alone, so how could this be turned into more of challenge, or more importantly have greater efficiency, as measured by my rules? After some study, the idea of preceding the three with another summit gradually developed. This could be a 2 or 4 pointer but why not add arguably the easiest 8 pointer in Britain, Old Man of Coniston. After all, it is radio that takes up most of the time in SOTA, these days and I knew from experience that I could make this ascent in well under an hour. On the down side, the ‘planning sheet’ demanded something like a 02:00 start from Scarborough and the 8 pointer would have to be climbed before dawn. It made sense, because the 2 pointer could be dropped off at the end if things should go awry and apart from the time issue, the walking parameters for the day didn’t add up to anything too onerous.
I was away from Scarborough by 02:12 in the trusty (and now rusty) 16 year old Ford Fiesta, driving the required 149 miles via the A65 and arriving at the Walna Scar road (west of Coniston village) by 05:28. There were two near-incidents on the way, both concerning Deer. I almost ploughed into half a dozen females on the road and later 4 of the big kind, with impressive antlers. Fortunately I saw them in time to slow down but sadly for them at this time of year, the two groups were miles apart!
If LD13 is to be efficiently ‘knocked off’ Walna is the place to start from. ‘Brilliant.’ As far as I could see with car headlights, there was no sign of last year’s ‘vehicular access restrictions’ and I was able to ‘dirt-track’ carefully along to the start of the OMC path; parking at SD 2827 9685. This would save 50m of ascent, 2 x 10 minutes and 1.4 km of walking, leaving only a 2 x 2.2 km walk and 531m of ascent. With summit times regularly hitting the 2 hour mark, every minute saved is significant on a full day such as this.
I later found that I could switch off my headlight by 06:30 so delaying setting off until 05:58 ensured a summit arrival in daylight. If I’d realized, I could have been QRV before 7am. The quiet and direct southern route for ‘Manacon’ is mostly grassy whereas some of the alternatives use rocky paths through heavily mine-worked areas. It’s not marked on my map but here it is: SD 2827 9685 - SD 27954 96946 - SD 27795 97048 - SD 27352 97075 - SD 27463 97307 - SD 27297 97547 - SD 27234 97698. There is just a little re-ascent involved but I found last year that it takes nicely under 45 min up and less than 30 down, if lightly laden in good daylight and clear conditions.
OLD-MAN-of-CONISTON, G/LD-013, 803m (8 pts), 06:50 to 08:48. 1 deg C. 25 mph wind, wispy low-cloud, IO84KI, WAB: SD29. QRP: FT817ND, 11 x AA (2.7 Ah) Ni-Mh external pack.
With no walkers expected, I set up in the lee of the summit cairn. The 80m link-antenna just fitted in but significantly ran close to the trig point, which is off to one side.
1.832-CW: It took some fiddling to get the VSWR right. Being high Q and critical, the Top Band coil-slugs demand a different setting over rock and at differing AGL’s. For a quick ascent, I had QRP with me, so 160m was given the early slot, bang on the advertised time of 07:15. Beautiful music! EI2CL found me right away and gave me 539. Thanks Mike. G3RMD called but the VSWR had ‘gone AWOL’ and he failed to hear the reply. The wind had dropped and with tension relieved, one leg of the dipole was in intimate contact with a wet trig point! I’m glad the waiting chasers had patience at this juncture and Frank G3RMD (best LD13 - 160m ‘DX’) was duly worked, followed by Roy G4SSH, Pete EI7CC and Mike GW0DSP. G3RDQ called in but again VSWR was ‘off the scale.’ This time a coil had become disconnected and by the time I’d fixed it, David wasn’t there anymore. I designed the coils with a mechanical fixing but due to the short time they would be needed, only the two electrical connections were made, allowing the wind to make mischief. More haste, less speed!
OK then; LD13 was qualified by early-birds and on top band CW so I could now leave! Would I be so cruel?
3.557-CW: I don’t think it applied on this one but predictive text had made the alerts for 80m CW on some summits ‘3.553.’ The error went unnoticed and I must apologize.
Prior to ‘QRL?’ I sometimes launch a couple of V’s in CW to check SWR. Roy had these reported at ‘559 de G4SSH BK’ in an instant! 80m was kind to my QRP and I soon had 11 in the log. Heinz DL7RAG, Hanno DL8SXX and OK1AOV proved yet again that that 40m can be left off the ‘menu’ early and late.
I was surprised to receive a visitor who appeared out of cloud at 07:43. I can’t remember seeing anybody on a SOTA summit this early. He was a Londoner who was camping in the valley below and couldn’t sleep. He asked the usual questions, so I sent ‘QRX’ then apologized to him for ruining his expected solitude. Returning to the rig, I must have inadvertently knocked the memory control knob which moved me onto 3.560. Des (Scarborough) G3HKO did not see this ‘hide and seek game’ as much of a challenge however, working me after a few CQ’s. I then noticed my error but thought he’d sounded better on there anyway. The QRP doesn’t wear out the ‘ether’ so quickly!
3.721-SSB: This was going to be harder. 5 Watts among all these early morning nets could easily get lost. The chasers would need to carve a way through. I dare not move far from my announced QRG in case I am not ‘found.’ 2E0RCS led this chase but with some incoming reports of ‘29’ and ‘33’ it was slow progress and frustrating not to be able to muster 100W when needed. However, it was a pleasure to be able to welcome YL ops Carolyn G6WRW and Helen M3YHB, as apparent SOTA newcomers. Also to Graham G0OHC (I think it was) who has become ‘infected’ latterly and is blaming me! Fellow activator, Gerald G4OIG was a rare and welcome caller today.
Top Band antenna problems, band conditions and an unexpected visitor made for a 2 hour stay. Too long. QRT at 09:38 and walking-off 10 minutes later, it was to the wrong route that I first went. This corrected, I was back at the car by 09:20 to do the drive to Wrynose Pass and the Three-Shire-Stone between 09:26 and 09:53; still early enough not to worry about time.
As for the walking route from NY 2772 0274; you can follow the main trod as far as a junction at NY 2674 0392 or take a lesser path between NY 2702 0366 and NY 2691 0401, which cuts the corner. Either way there is a stony path to follow NE via NY 2711 0414, all the way to the rocky ‘binary’ summits. I set out at 09:56 with a heavy pack. There’s a grassy rock-strewn slope sufficiently large to take an 80m dipole, just east of the summit.
PIKE OF BLISCO, G/LD-024, 705m, 6 pts, 10:35 to 12:00 noon. 3 deg.C, 20 mph wind, overcast but very little low-cloud. IO84KQ, WAB: NY20. QRO: IC706-2G, 7.5Ah SLAB. (Phone coverage)
If I sent ‘GA’ instead if ‘GM’ from this one, it’s because to me it really felt like mid afternoon.
3.557-CW: Starting at 10:52, fifteen UK (& EI) stations were logged in CW. Quentin GW3BV, who had worked me on LD13 only with difficulty using SSB, needed 60W along with a few others but many were worked using 20W. Dan ON4ON made it against the odds at this time of day.
3.724-SSB: By 11:18 the switch to SSB had been made and a further fourteen ‘local’ regulars claimed the six points on offer. For quickness, I used about 40 Watts.
Thus far it had taken me a mere 45 minutes but I had yet to check 1.832 CW. Jumping up quickly to add the 160m coils, put my thighs into such severe cramp that I could not walk. This is not normal for me. A few minutes of 100W CQ’s revealed 160m to be as useless as my legs had temporarily become.
By 11:49 I was taking the antenna down, just managing to stay inside my self-imposed 90 minute limit. Back to the car by 12:28 for food and the short drive to Hardknott Pass (NY 2318 0147) where there is room for a couple of cars to park and from here both LD28 & LD34 are accessible.
Starting the LD28 climb at 12:50, I had to cross some very boggy and annoyingly undulating terrain, prior to the ascent of Harter Fell proper. Today it really was a filthy sponge and I wondered if a more efficient route (dryer and with fewer re-ascents) could be found on the higher ground to the west of this track. ‘Wood-cutters’ have now removed the plantation to the east of the path and the going only improves after significant height has been gained. Because the foothills don’t get on with the business of ‘ramparting’ the main target, the final approach is pretty steep. (Cross stiles at NY 2288 0112 & NY 2273 0060, then via NY 2261 0033 - NY 2226 0004 and SD 2207 9973 to LD24.)
It’s not particularly easy to fit a 40m long dipole onto this summit but the research from last year paid off. It was squeezed into exactly the same space, between the path and a 10m high vertical rock face, though this was probably screening one half of it towards the North. Sitting in the same rock cleft as before, I was more than happy about opening the 3rd SOTA of the day before 2pm. Now I would be saying ‘good evening!’
HARTER FELL, G/LD-028, 653m, 4pts, 13:38 to 15:10. 5 deg.C, 15 mph wind. Mostly low-cloud with the promise (only) of sunshine. IO84JJ, WAB: SD29. QRP: FT817ND, 2.2 Ah SLAB. (No phone coverage)
Feeling less than in tip-top condition today, I just couldn’t face carrying QRO over those bogs. I need not have worried though, there were plenty of QSO’s for the taking but mainly on SSB.
3.557-CW: There was deep QSB on the band and it took almost half an hour of repeat reports to log just 9 chasers. It was a struggle at times and I regret that the only two overseas callers, namely Frid DL1FU and Dan ON4ON ‘resisted’ all attempts to fish them out.
3.724-SSB: Surprisingly, this produced better results than CW, with no less than 22 chasers securing the points. Perhaps band conditions gradually improved as noon was left behind. This must have been the true; otherwise 5W would never have pulled-in F4CTJ on 80m SSB. As is often the case, John GW4BVE provided today’s armchair copy!
With 80m not fully open and considering my mouse power and the amount of fading, I didn’t waste time with 160m from here. Better to guarantee a fourth SOTA instead. To that end, I packed up quickly and was back to Hardknott Pass by 15:48, for a rig change and victuals. A start on LD34 was made by 15:54 but it’s initially steep, energy levels were low and the QRO pack seemed heavier than ever. I could take my time though; the 2am start was paying me back now. Though the ascent required is minimal, Hard Knott fools you in clag with false summits, bogs and minor re-ascents. From the car at NY 2318 0147, it’s up via NY 2318 0165 - NY 2307 0178 - NY 2303 0188 - NY 2300 0201 - NY 2305 0202 - NY 2303 0218 to the summit cairn at NY 2319 0238. There are light paths to guide you but it’s a rather confusing hill and there are likely to be better ways. (As per LD24; avoid the electric fences, though I suspect they are now switched off)
HARD KNOTT, G/LD-034, 549m, 2pts, 16:20 to 18:10, 4 deg C, 25 mph wind, low-cloud. IO84JJ, WAB: NY20. QRO: IC706-2G, 7.5Ah SLAB. (No phone coverage)
There is only just sufficient flat grass beside the cairn to accept the dipole but with few rocks to snag it, it didn’t take long to erect. At late afternoon, I took the precaution of clamping the headlight around my hat but this was something that I would later regret.
3.557-CW: LD34’s ETA turned out have been closely predicted and Roy G4SSH had done a fine job of alerting potential chasers after I told him in CW from Harter Fell that it was a ‘go-er.’ That said, I was still taken aback by the chaser reception. What a pile-up! Until inroads could be made, I was barely picking-out a single call and this was only a 2-pointer! Roy got me on the ‘V’s again but so did DL3BRA, though I had to ‘throw’ 60 Watts Horst’s way to work him in the QSB. Perhaps the history of just a handful of QSO’s on 40m from here and probably nothing on 80m after dusk has made LD34 attractive to overseas chasers who collect these new-fangled ‘uniques.’
Over a period of 45 minutes, a total of 30 stations enthusiastically called in and were logged. The carry had been well worth it; I had Watts to spare and they were needed for the overseas operators, who made up 60% of this batch.
3.724-SSB: This QRG was occupied and so were most of the others. I opened on 3.728 at 17:21, where Barry 2E0PXW found me first on SSB, for the third time in the day. Well done Barry. To avoid interference to Slow-Scan TV, I later moved to 3.703. Shortly afterwards, this became bad too and I ended up on 3.700. I rarely QSY on LF because experience has shown that it’s often out of the frying pan and into the fire. It’s also an efficient way to loose a percentage of chasers. Fortunately, Graham G4JZF assisted and kept track of these antics and posted them on SOTAwatch. To those left without a QSO, as I suspect may have occurred judging by the small number (just 8) who worked me on phone, I can only apologize.
1.832-CW: With 9 stations worked, including 3 in Europe, this was a success: G4SSH, G3RMD, EI7CC, G3WPF, G4BLH, EI2CL, F8BBL and DL8YR. The final QSO of the day was with EU3HR a couple of minutes before 18:00. I used mostly 70 to 100W but could have got away with less in some instances.
The light was fading fast as I walked off. The headlamp didn’t help because of back-scatter from cloud so leaving it in place, I switched it off. In the murk and darkness, I had to concentrate hard on the GPS screen to get off without getting horribly lost on this confusing top. As I got lower I got warmer, so off came the hat. I didn’t have the energy to go back for my headlamp after discovering it was missing just before arriving at the car at 18:34. If you find it, keep it.
A flock of mixed Herdwicks and Swaledales, lying on the deserted road between Hardknott and Wrynose Passes, refused to move even with the threat of being run over. Apparently docile in darkness to the point of stupidity, I photographed them and even stuck a hand out of the window; patting one of their heads as I threaded my way carefully between them! The 150 mile drive (via A65 with 310 miles driven in the day) brought me home by 22:12 which was precisely 20 hours after setting out. You can bet that a cool day in summer will see me languishing on a single summit all day long!
THANKS to ALL STATIONS worked and to G4SSH, GW0DSP, EI2CL, G4OWG, G0VWP, GW0VMZ, G3RMD, DL4FDM and G4JZF for spotting. Thanks to Roy G4SSH for reacting to the late confirmation of LD34 and for his unstinting help in general, throughout the long day. Finally, I must thank the loyal supporters who got up early to help me qualify LD13! That’s dedication.
LD13 (OMC): 531m ascent / 4.4 km.
LD24 (Blisco): 320m ascent / 4.4 km.
LD28 (Harter): 295m ascent / 5 km.
LD34 (Hard Knott): 160m ascent / 2.4 km.
Totals: 1,306m (4,284ft) of ascent / 16.2 km (10.1 miles) walked.
32 (activator) points.
66 on 3.5-CW.
57 on 3.5-SSB.
14 on 1.8-CW. (LD13 & 34 only)
Total: 137. QSO break-down: 29 on LD13. 30 on LD24. 31 on LD28. 47 on LD34.
LD13: 38% discharged 11 x 2.7 Ah AA external pack. (FT817)
LD24: 62% discharged 7.5 Ah SLAB. (IC706)
LD28: 46% discharged 2.2 Ah SLAB. (FT817)
LD34: 77% discharged 7.5 Ah SLAB. (IC706)
73, John G4YSS (using SSEG clubcall, GX0OOO/P)