Pike of Blisco, Harter Fell & Hard Knott, 14-March-07.
Using SSEG Club-call, GX0OOO/P. Accompanied by William and Jess, the enthusiastic spaniel.
QRO: IC706-2G, dipole, sealed lead-acid (SLAB) batteries, 5m mast.
We were away from Scarborough by 03:30 in my 15 year old Ford Fiesta via A65, arriving at Wrynose Pass, Three-Shire-Stone at 06:36.
The sun peeped briefly over the hills opposite before we set off through low-cloud at 06:55.
This has in the past, been an ‘accompanied’ and therefore a 2m FM only activation. Today I hoped to ‘push my luck,’ as far as my friend Will’s patience was concerned, and try it on 80m QRO. Nevertheless, I’d hoped to limit each summit time down below 80 minutes advertising 09:15, 13:30 and 16:00, for the three activations. For reasons I have only just now discovered, these badly predicted QRV’s were to have an impact on the Harter Fell activation duration, which turned out to be a full two hours because we arrived way ahead of the alert time.
I had based the times on last year’s operation which was identical including our Scarborough start time except, last year we used VHF. It was a simple matter to add some time for HF and post the alerts. What I failed to realize until later is that last year we sat in the car at Wrynose Pass for an hour, waiting for heavy rain to stop. Also, this year’s route via the A65 was 23 minutes quicker than last years drive via the A66, for a roughly similar distance. Whether this was because there are less heavy commercials and road works on the A65 I don’t know but I was aware of a momentary ‘flash of light’ coming from the side of the road at SD 4457 9870. My son later informed me that I may get a ‘certificate’ through the post and that this could add to my expenditure on car insurance on top of a ‘request’ for a payment to the authorities. When he told me how much, I though a mere extra £10 for a decent frame, might result in a smart memento which would sit well beside the glass MG award.
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.
PIKE OF BLISCO, G/LD-024, 705m, 6 pts, 07:54 to 09:12. 4 deg.C, 15 mph wind, low-cloud.
Found a grassy rock-strewn area sufficiently large to take an 80m dipole, just east of the summit. We got occasional glimpses of distant mountains but mostly the ‘viz’ was around 100m. At the time, I couldn’t understand how we had come to be well over an hour early and there was nothing for it but to summon the assistance of Roy G4SSH, who I worked at 08:11. Fortunately there was good phone coverage but Roy’s spots were ‘disappearing into the ether.’ By 08:22, following a computer re-boot, we were properly underway on 3.724 CW, with Alain F6ENO first in line.
A ‘healthy mix’ of fourteen European and UK stations were logged in CW and by 08:50 the switch to SSB had been made. A further eleven UK regulars claimed the six points on offer and by 09:05 I was taking the antenna down, having just managed to stay inside my self-imposed 80 minute limit. 80 minutes is for me a rapid activation but for my friend and his dog, sitting in the ‘fog’ with a cold-wind blowing down their necks, it might have seemed like 2 hours. Normally when this happens, Will makes his way slowly down using my spare GPS but this time the spaniel refused point blank to budge, until the third member of the party was available to walk down with her! She wouldn’t be persuaded or even dragged and this new and unexpected behavior pattern was to be repeated on the next two summits.
Back to the car by 10:02 for food and the short drive to Hardknott Pass, where there is room for a couple of cars to park and we were back again ‘fighting the fog’ at 10:32. Some very boggy preliminary undulating terrain needs to be negotiated prior to the ascent of Harter Fell proper. We noticed that the ‘wood-cutters’ had made further inroads into the plantation on our left, as we found and climbed the stiles at NY 2288 0112 & NY 2273 0060. One stile caused a problem. Jess refused to go through the slide-opening underneath it and kept on deviating left or right until the inevitable happened. Her nose came into brief contact with the electric fence, forcing a loud ‘yelp’ which preceded markedly improved cooperation. From here it gets quite steep and there were promising brighter periods in the WX.
HARTER FELL, G/LD-028, 653m, 4pts, 11:34 to 13:34. Initially 4 deg.C, 20 mph wind. Mostly low-cloud but later patchy sunshine.
It’s not particularly easy to fit a full-sized 40 long dipole onto this summit. I ended up with it squeezed between the path and a 10m high vertical rock face. This was probably screening one half of it towards the North which may have later cost me an S2S with Scotland but there was little chance of finding anything better in the mist or time available.
We found somewhere to sit in a rock cleft, where Will & Jess tucked-in to their respective lunches. Now running two full hours early, there was little chance of raising anyone on the announced frequency of 3.725 CW/SSB and after 10 minutes of CQ’s, so it proved. If this was not to be a failure and Will’s patience was going to ‘hold,’ I would have to raise some stations quick-time. I knew Roy had gone out for a haircut, so I phoned Phil G4OBK before noticing that there was no cell-phone coverage from Harter Fell summit.
Frantically going up and down through the rig’s memories, I heard a familiar voice on 3.760 SSB. It was old friend Brian G0BFJ, the WAB President. In a fair exchange for SD29 Cumbria, the summit was qualified with the help of WABer’s Brian G0NSL, Dennis GW6JNE and Phil GW7AFM/M, with the forlorn hope that a SOTA chaser might overhear this. More CQ’s on 3.725 showed me that they hadn’t. So where were they to be found? With only one hope remaining, I rushed to open the 60m dipole links. Will was bemused because he knows about SOTA’s ‘four QSO’ rule but using G4YSS/P, I soon found the friendly voice of Don G0RQL on 60m channel FE. Ten stations collected LD28 on 60 and Cris GM4FAM promised to meet me on 80m. Robin, GM7PKT/P tried very hard to send a report and cement an S2S but though my 100W was making the trip and despite a quiet band, I just could not hear his southbound 5W signal well enough in my ear-phones. At this point William attempted to descend but once again his dog, looking back towards me would not budge. Luckily, the clouds opened, hazy sunshine followed and Will was not quite so concerned about the prospect of staying even longer on his favourite summit.
Finally at 12:51, a full 70 minutes after we had summited, the activation proper could begin. Ten stations arrived on 3.724 CW and surprisingly these included two stations normally only to be found on 7.032 at this time of day; namely Bernd DL2DXA and Heinz DL7RAG. The SSB session served to bring in those stations who had failed to hear me on 60m plus a few more. With seven of these in the log including Graham G4FUJ/M, an unfortunate WAB mobile I had last April caused to be ‘buried’ under OV00 callers and to whom I was finally able to apologize.
With the WX now improved, the walk down was enjoyable and we had a ‘re-supply’ at the car between 14:40 and 14:49. Twice before, I have been on my own for the final one, LD34 Hard Knott. Both times I felt duty-bound to ‘cram’ a 2m FM activation of LD34 into a gross time of 75 minutes, while the others waited in the car but today Will was determined to do it. I was looking forward to not rushing as we started up the initial steep section from the Pass. Navigation, previously achieved in low-cloud, is quite complex. There are a few route variations which are acceptable and some which are not. It can clearly be seen how easily positional activation errors could be made here. There are several ‘lumps’ that look like possible summits but they’re all imposters; the true one, with a pile of stones at its top, lies at NY 2319 0238. Perhaps the best way of getting there is via NY 2318 0165, NY 2307 0178, NY 2303 0188, NY 2301 0194, NY 2304 0201 and NY 2308 0225. There is a path all the way, though its definition is variable and extensive bogs must be avoided.
HARD KNOTT, G/LD-034, 549m, 2pts, 15:15 to 16:50, 6 deg C, 25 mph wind, patchy sunshine. (Cloud still down on the Scafells.)
I posted 2m FM for this activation, with an ‘upgrade’ to 80m as an alternative.
There is only just sufficient flat grass beside the cairn, to accept the dipole but it didn’t take long to erect. Unusually, Roy didn’t hear my CQ on 3.727 CW but it was rapidly picked-up and posted by Mike, EI2CL in Dublin. For the third time today, 80m was also masquerading as 40m with seven out of 20 callers based in mainland Europe. However, 100W was required to successfully pass reports to some of these. UK stations came in well too but sudden and quite appalling SSB QRM triggered a frequency change to 3.722 CW at 16:14. The latter was a clear channel but despite first announcing a QSY into the QRM, it took a short while to be relocated by the more distant chasers.
Yet another QSO started on my QRG, so the SSB session was done on 3.724.4, where 15 stations were logged. Robin, GM7PKT and I put right the earlier 60m failure, with an S2S from SS84 to LD34. William takes a passing (or polite) interest in SOTA and periodically asks about Robin and his position as lead activator, so I pulled out the ear-phone plugs so that he could hear for himself.
My companion had now learned that any attempt to leave without me, would be firmly resisted by Jess and we all three walked down together between 16:50 and 17:14. This introduction to Hard Knott had left Will wondering why he had traditionally ‘sat this one out’ in the car. I must agree that it’s a friendly little hill, easily assaulted from Hard Knott Pass, with plenty of interesting features and great views of Scafell, when it’s clear. Despite its modest height, there exists a clear VHF path through to the Lockerbie, Morecambe, Furness and Anglesey districts, should 2m be your band of choice.
Home by 21:06 (via A65) with 303 miles driven in the day.
THANKS to ALL STATIONS worked and to G4SSH, M0VEY, G0RQL, EI2CL and GW7AAV for spotting. Thanks to Roy G4SSH for reacting to an early morning phone call.
752m (2467ft) of ascent for 21 points with 7.3 miles walked. Packweight: 13kg.
44 on 3.5-CW.
37 on 3.5-SSB.
10 on 5.3985 -SSB. (Ch. FE as G4YSS/P)
Total: 91. QSO break-down: 25 on LD24. 31 on LD28. 35 on LD34.
RF power: Band conditions were a little out of the ordinary today. I was informed that the MUF was down around 5 MHz and for obvious reasons someone else said that 7 MHz was poor. My own experience on 80m was that I seemed to need to run more power than was usual and the log shows that 30 to 70 Watts was routine with 100W needed for reports on perhaps 15 occasions. The QRO station was a good choice with a fresh battery waiting in the car for each activation.
LD24: 55% discharged 7.5 Ah SLAB.
LD28: 60% discharged 7.5 Ah SLAB.
LD34: 78% discharged 7.5 Ah SLAB.
73, John G4YSS (using SSEG clubcall, GX0OOO/P)
Winter Bonus 06 / 07:
The ‘manic’ 105 day winter bonus season is now over for another year. In a small way, I can’t say that I’m sorry but I have enjoyed most of the activations tremendously. I won’t miss the early mornings, the long days, the stress of driving long distances or the insomnia caused by worrying about exposure to danger and accidents that might result. I will miss the contact with the chasers, the cool walking conditions and the little extra fitness gained which might soon to be lost again! Also, my CW skills should in theory, have improved a little. In practice, apart from standard traffic such as callsigns and reports, I doubt that is the case.
As winters go, this has been the mildest for a while and I can only remember walking over snow on 15 Dec, 10 Jan, 25 Jan and 08 Feb. Only the activations on the 25th January were convincingly sub-zero.
Scarborough Special Event Group SOTA winter activity:
In the bonus period, GX0OOO/P has been aired from 43 summits in 16 expeditions with 1,378 QSO’s and 357 points. Ascent totaled 13,524m (44,370ft). Miles walked and driven were 139 (always surprisingly low) and 3,833 respectively.
Because of a continuing need to minimize summit times, this winter has seen the consolidation of a technique, introduced to SOTA as a regular feature, from Cross Fell on 9th November 2006. Supported by increasingly effective spotting via GM4ZFZ, Jon’s new system, one frequency / two mode operations on the ‘all modes’ section of 80m seems to have been a success and liked by chasers. This was not my idea; it’s been used for decades by the WAB organization, which was incidentally served via the activation of three mountain-portable areas on 21st Dec-06.
A handful of CW ‘learners and lapsed CW ops’ (and I am included in the latter group) have successfully contacted the station and it’s clear that the current CW ‘revival’ is a good thing in the quest for quick and reliable SOTA communications. There were over twenty 160m operations and a single 4m activation, using PMR equipment from a snow-covered tent on Wild Boar Fell on 15th December.
SSEG have aimed to be ‘inclusive’ whenever possible by carrying out multi mode multi-band HF operation on ‘universally accessible’ bands. Regrettably, this has meant that the old ‘mainstay’ of SOTA; VHF has been neglected but in theory, 80m SSB should reach all the stations that 2m FM can, plus a lot more.