SOTA: GM/WS-002 AONACH BEAG.
SSEG Club-call GS0OOO/P & (GM4YSS/P - used for database).
(For WS3 & WS1 report for 23-09-08, see: http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=2368#foot)
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS).
Equipment: FT817ND-5W-QRP and a 20-30-40-60-80 (160m loaded) link-dipole. 5m H/B CFC mast and 6-cell, 11.1V, 4.4 Ah Li-Po battery. Garmin GEKO-301 GPS. Reserves (not used): Jingtong 2m-FM H/H. Eight 1Ah-AAA, Ni-Mh cells, with AA adaptors for FT817. 9 kg pack including 1 litre water. (Plus 1 litre ‘pre-hydration’).
After returning to the Highland Hotel, Fort William following the GM/WS3 (CMD) & GM/WS1 (Ben Nevis) activations on the 1st day of our 4-night Scottish break, all I wanted to do was rest. I’d had poor preparation for these two and fitness was in question. However within 24 hours I felt OK again and started to think about another SOTA. I told my XYL about the Nevis Range Cablecar and to my surprise, she showed some interest. The WX was benign, so why not take her up on it and then activate the 4055ft Aonach Beag from the top station, leaving her to have coffee, look around the ‘retail’ and descend at her leisure? She is disabled so we thought this an excellent way for her to see just what attracts me to the high places. Moreover, instead of another 5am start, it meant we could have an unrushed breakfast together at 8am and still make the first cablecar at 10am. Despite misgivings that I should really be walking the entire way, it did not go unnoticed that my activation would benefit from the huge ‘leg-up’ provided by mechanical means. I had never done WS2 before so with no paths marked on my map, I planned the route on the GPS as best I could.
Nevis Range Gondolas (http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/summer/, Tel: 01397 705825):
We visited Nevis Range (accessed from the A82) the day before. The charge is £9.25 per-person (return) and the operating times at this time of year; daily 10am to 5pm (wind-speed limited). The journey time is 12 minutes and the station heights are: Lower 100m at NN172775 and upper 655m (2150 feet) at NN1876 7561. The saving in ascent is 555m and the distance covered is about 2.5km. In case I was to miss the last gondola at 17:15, I checked on the walking option. There is a good mountain bike track which winds around beneath the cables. A common error (evidenced when my wife overheard a punter at the top station on his mobile phone say, ‘I’m halfway up Ben Nevis’) is to assume that the cablecar runs up Ben Nevis itself. It does not. Rather the mountain ‘next door but one.’
Enquiring whether there was a path up the ski slopes of Aonach Mor and continuing to Aonach Beag, I was told ‘no.’ This would later be proved wrong but I now think the misinformation had much more to do with differing definitions of a what comprises a ‘path’ than any lack of knowledge. In fact the advice reads: ‘Unless you are planning to hill-walk, visitors are asked to stick to the waymarked paths.’ The ‘real’ mountain path is narrow & unwaymarked but some of the official ones you could drive a bus along.
The Ascent route: Following a short delay in setting off due to a mechanical fault, we stepped off the first Gondola at 10:20, after finding out that it doesn’t actually stop completely. There were two snow cats parked outside. Denise pottered around the outlet and mountain restaurant, sent some postcards then left at 1pm. I was underway from NN1876 7561 by 10:25; walking west along the track as far as the bridge over the Allt an t-Sneachda Burn at NN1853 7544, which is just east of a chair lift bottom station. Bearing left after the bridge, I walked up over pathless grass between the burn and the chairlift cables before crossing under them, then going up as far as the chairlift’s top station at NN1850 7452. This short cut may not be possible in winter due to hurtling skiers but the path I am about to describe may well run out of the way, up the mountain’s western lip from Meal Beag viewpoint.
After continuing south for about 100m to NN1849 7441, there’s a decent path which was easy to follow via NN1865 7425, NN1876 7408 and NN1907 7393 to a communications mast and wooden hut at NN1922 7395. The path got a bit vague around here or maybe I just lost it when I went over to the mast in low-cloud. It only matters if you are using it for direction finding because the terrain is easy without it. Either way, it wasn’t until after NN1926 7350 that I picked it up again, leaving it to nip over to Aonach Mor’s large summit cairn (1221m) which I GPS’d at NN 19306 72952.
There is a good path over grass, from Aonach Mor via NN1931 7235, to the low-point of approx 1090m at NN1939 7190. After that the character changes as the path makes a ‘summit bid’ over and around outcrop and loose stones (NN1946 7170 and NN1962 7164) to the small summit cairn GPS’d at NN 19718 71494. The top of Aonach Beag is featureless, vegetation-free and windswept and apart from some low, ice-shattered quartz outcrop, there is little to hide behind. The east side is precipitous but after further investigation, I found good grass just off the top and a small quartz rock at NN1970 7137, which is where I set up the dipole.
AONACH BEAG, GM/WS-002, 1236m (4055ft), 10 pts, 12:06 to 15:22 BST. 4 deg C, 10 mph wind, low cloud & high cloud. Poor views. WAB-NN17, LOC-IO76MT.
It is evident that someone got this one wrong. Mor is big, Beag is little but I walked over Mor, worth nil SOTA points, to get to Beag, which should be smaller but is worth 10! This is an error of ancient man which can’t possibly be blamed on the long-suffering SMT! In actuality, if the intervening col were 15m deeper, we’d have two 10-pointers here.
Frid DL1FU was quick to hear my QRL on 7.032 at 11:40z and others rapidly followed. There was a mixture of UK and European stations; 32 going into my log in about 38 minutes. For the third and final time it was Alain F6ENO/P who provided the excitement of an S2S with F/AM-731. Many thanks must go to our friend Fritz DL4FDM for alerting the presence of Alain’s weaker /P signal and to all stations for allowing a silent band for the QRP S2S. Conditions on 40 must have been good to for log this many stations in that time and over a wide geography, with 5W QRP.
Picking a clear QRG close to 7.060, a quick CQ brought in G0RQL, Don in Devon. It’s made easy when stations are avidly seeking you and of course it’s good for morale too. However, SSB didn’t ‘deliver’ nearly as well as CW today, though on occasions I’ve known it to be the other way around. Averaging 2.5 minutes per QSO, only seven made it through the QRN/QSB. The penultimate of these was G6WRW mobile in Telford town centre. Though seasoned WAB’ers would laugh at the comment, the fact that we managed to exchange reports with my QRP and Carolyn’s /M antenna in the QRN of a built up area and through the noise of a car engine, was mildly remarkable. Finally a ‘new’ op called me, Vic G4KEE for a QRP to QRP QSO. After that nil.
Whilst keeping a careful eye on the time, so as not to miss the last gondola down at 17:15, I gave a call on 3.557 CW, hoping that ‘SOTA Control’ would pick it up. Roy did and again G4SSH was first in this log section.
Roy’s spot brought in G0TDM, G4OBK, EI2CL and G4RQJ (John, Phil, Mike & Rob).
3.724 is where people expect to find me after 80CW and whether it was that fact or another of Roy’s spots, I wouldn’t like to say but GW7AAV called in without delay. It was a struggle, if a short one as Steve gave me a 25 report. The numbers don’t matter if the QSO is good and it was. I can imagine how bad it must be for chasers to know when the QRP activator is transmitting, listening or in QSO and I quite understand if there’s doubling. (Not that there was today.)
This session was useful in getting another 8 more stations in and giving my conscience a break. Graham G4JZF really struggled here and had to wait down the list. The QSB must have been deep though. From ‘no QSO’ five minutes prior, his second attempt produced a QSO clear enough for me to order a new WAB record book over the air! (I will send you a cheque soon Graham, for 17664).
160m CW: Again, more in hope than expectation but 1.8 had to be tried. Phil G4OBK had said earlier that he would listen and if nil heard he would try calling me. From 13:35z that’s what happened. I could hear Phil with his great aerials and big power but there was never more than a fluky chance of getting back. I logged Phil as ‘heard only’ and his signals came in at a rock-steady 589 from Pickering YSN. After a few tries I ‘bailed off’ to 2m FM. If there’d been anybody listening on 1.832 anywhere in the UK, Phil’s big signal would likely have been audible to them.
Once again GM7PKT was ‘about’ on 145.500; Robin answering my CQ with the message that he was 10 minutes from the summit of GM/SS-009 and could I hang around a while longer? You bet I could. I used the time to pack away the HF station before making an S2S with Robin on the home-brew, half-wave J-fed vertical. Robin had done GM/SS-005 in the morning, making me a little ashamed that I was ‘taking it easy’ today with one summit and a cablecar! Seemingly, he’d been on 40 SSB but was none too happy with the QSO rate there. I hope it won’t be another 2.5 years to my next S2S with Robin, who prioritises 2m; the hardest band to work up in ‘lumpy’ GM.
I know Robin works on 5 MHz quite a bit too and I once favoured 60m. It’s a good band for covering the UK and there’s often someone listening on FE. The down side to my mind is when it’s been a long day, I’m mentally weary and can’t face the ‘extras’ like ‘general’ CQ, SIMPO, LOC, antenna details, orientation etc. Exclusivity is another negative.
The descent of WS2:
This was simply a re-trace of the ascent route but dawdling a little to meet Parkinson’ Rule, namely: ‘The job expands to fill the time available’ as I still had time to spare to meet the last car down. There were better views on the retreat and I could see a patch of snow on the sunless face of WS2’s Northeast Ridge but the hazy sun’s angle and remaining low-cloud made photography of what would normally have been the breathtaking vistas of Tuesday’s CMD & Ben Nevis, seem rather mundane.
Thinking of the impressive SOTA photo of a pair of snow shoes on Aonach Mor in winter, I explored the deserted and snow-free ski buildings, cablecar terminuses and radio mast there, arriving complete with a sizeable lump of quartz from WS2, for Denise’s rockery. The time at the top station was 16:55 and I was in the bottom car park before17:10.
QSO summary – WS2:
40m CW: 32
40m SSB: 7
80m CW: 5
80m SSB: 8
160m CW: 0
2m FM: 1
Total WS3: 53.
Battery utilisation: 48% (measured) of 4.4 Ah Li-Po. (All 5W inc. FM)
Ascent & distance: 850m (2789ft) – 9.9 km (6.2 mls).
Elapsed time: Walking time: UP: 1hr-40min; DN: 1hr-33min. Summit time: 3hr-16min. Gross time: 6hr-29min.
Conclusion: This was a good way to follow Tuesday’s hard walk whilst still going high and earning an easy 10 points but that’s not how I viewed it in planning. There were unknowns; mainly regarding the gondola service, terrain, paths and whether there would be sufficient time for a useful activation on a number of band/modes? I was suspicious that WS2 had only been activated 7 times but perhaps nobody had used the ‘leg-up’ method. It would be much more difficult without it, involving some 4600ft of ascent, not much less than WS1 & 3 combined.
In the event Nevis Range did what they advertised and over 3 hours were available for the activation with a good path marked in the GPS. On a clear day, the views, especially of the western neighbours, would have been fabulous. Again the bands were kind to QRP but it would have been better to have had the time for 30m. Band etiquette and discipline is worth a mention because it means a lot to a hard-pressed activator. It was excellent throughout the three activations; as soon as a station was picked out of the pile-up, all other stations stopped calling.
At least the XYL got a look-in on the last one and all three targets of the holiday were less than 15 minutes drive from the Hotel. For the purposes of SOTA, the week’s WX couldn’t have been better. Light winds, not cold, not hot, no midges but most importantly very little sunshine. Ben Nevis and its arête were the highlights but WS2 and WS3 were great too. The three leading GM/WS’s were completed. A snip at just over £100 per summit or £3 per SOTA point (excluding a visit to Nevisport Outdoor) with a lovely break thrown in.
Thanks: To ALL STATIONS WORKED and to DL2DXA, G4SSH & G4OBK for spotting support. To my son Phil G0UUU for Alerting. To Fritz DL4FDM (and others on Tuesday) for S2S alerts. To my XYL Denise for showing interest and coming along for the Nevis Range Gondola ride. Finally to Nevis Range for lifting me & my SOTA equipment to 655m; half way up Aonach Mor for under a tenner.
Photos in Flicker soon. (When I remember how to load them!)
73, John G(M)4YSS,
using SSEG GS0OOO/P.
(This summit entered under GM4YSS/P for SOTA purposes)