G4YSS: GM/WS-052 & GM/WS-063 Activation Report, 10-Sept-09
BEINN EIGHE SOTAs: GM/WS-052 RUADH STAC MOR & GM/WS-063 SPIDEAN COIRE NAN CLACH.
SSEG Club-call GS0OOO/P & (GM4YSS/P used for SOTA database).
According to the Database, neither of these summits had previously been activated.
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS).
QRO - HF / LF. QRP - VHF.
IC706 2G with home-brew composite panels, wiring & breakering. CW ‘key’ in microphone. (Total: 2.47kg). Link Dipole for 20-30-40-60-80 (0.38kg on reel) with tuneable coils for 160 (0.08kg) inserted at the 40m break points. 5m CFC mast – 1m ends (0.78kg). IC-E90, 4-band H/H with 1.3Ah battery and Half-Wave J-Pole for 2m.
Two RCM 4.4 Li-Po batteries in parallel (100% depleted) plus one RCM 4.4Ah Li-Po in reserve (est. 70% depleted). 11V nom, 100W capable. (1.1kg in total including paralleling harnesses.)
Garmin GEKO-301 GPS used for navigation, with map & compass in reserve.
QRO pack-weight: 12kg including 1.7 litre water. (1.5 litre ‘pre-hydration’ at 06:30).
Today was the first sortie of the 2009 selected GM ‘cherry-picks.’ As in previous years, it had nothing to do with amassing SOTA points; just the desire for ‘eminent’ summits and in Beinn Eighe’s case, to revisit an ‘old friend.’ These two are in a group of 16 of the most northerly WS summits.
Last year I went to GM alone and slept in the crumbling L-reg. Fiesta which now sits on my front lawn as a source of spares and to discourage burglars by ‘lowering the tone.’ This time my very generous XYL bought us a 7-day holiday at the Gairloch Hotel for my recent 60th birthday. Net time for the 435 mile drive from Scarborough was 9 hours. A number of routes up various SOTAs were prepared beforehand. At just 25 miles from Gairloch and due to the fact that two ‘new’ SOTAs were available, Beinn Eighe was always going to be a strong candidate.
My son Andy & I had climbed Beinn Eighe in 1995 to look at the impact point of a Lancaster Bomber which hit the top of the westernmost gully of the triple buttresses. Because of heavy snows, the March 1951 wreck could not be reached for some considerable time and that led to the formation of what we now know as the Mountain Rescue Organisation. Significant wreckage now rests on the scree slope between Loch Corrie Mhic Fhearchair. For instance, a propellor lies at NG 9435 6035.
I returned to video this aircraft in 2001 and used the path along Coire Dubh Mor which orbits Sail Mhor and finishes up at Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair. It proved to be an unhappy experience. Although I got the film, my retreat was due south up the steep gully immediately west of the three buttresses. Here some old favourite boots began to fall apart. By the time I’d climbed over Coinneach Mhor and back to the path, both soles were off and it was raining heavily. My leather belt and some nylon cord partially saved the day but getting back to the A896 with the soles at all angles and socks in contact with the soaking stony path was an experience that I would not wish to repeat.
After a lot of mind changes, the path which leaves the A 896 between Kinlochewe to Torridon near a small copse was chosen as the most efficient method of gaining the altitude required to access both summits. A 40m long track links the road with the start of the path and if people are sensible, 4 or more cars can be parked at its end at NG 9772 5787.
From here a well surfaced path climbs zig-zag style via NG 9762 5831 and NG 9748 5867 to NG 9737 5920 where surface quality deceases. Up to this point the path has seen much work on it. The surface is man-made but not the large blocks often seen in England. This was more like a cobbled finish. The path turns west at NG 9725 5934 as it rounds the high point Stuc Coire An Laoigh and care should be taken not to lose it around NG 9683 5937 where it becomes less well defined on grass. Resist the temptation to turn right. Continue walking west up steep zig-zags via NG 9670 5938 until the ridge cairn is reached at NG 9659 5941. Turn right here and walk up to the top of the ridge if WS63 is to be activated first.
I skirted WS63 on the way in and headed for WS52. In low-cloud I didn’t find a skirt path per se, though there was an ‘impostor’ starting from NG 9652 5952. Falling for this trick of the mountain in bad viz, I soon found myself slipping and sliding on random loose rocks and shale across the 150m long traverse, before reaching the security of Spidean’s west ridge at NG 9640 5958. Nonetheless, I think this was preferable to climbing right up to the summit of WS63 twice. Better to skirt it and deal with it on the way back. That way both activations go out at a time more convenient to chasers.
From here the route takes the form of a simple ridge walk though it does go up and down a bit. Go to the 830m col at NG 9569 5953, then via another cairn at NG 9533 5985 (902m) to a point on grass at NG 9515 6003. Here a skirt-path for Coinneach Mhor is available. It is well defined and curves around to pick up the NE ridge at NG 9512 6020. Col-868 is at NG 9517 6028 and climbing due north from it puts Ruadh Stac Mor (WS52) ‘in the bag.’
After downing 1.5 litres of fluids, I set off at 06:38 and was skirting WS63 in cloud at just turned 8am. On top of a lack of fitness, I will admit to a shortage of enthusiasm for SOTA again this summer and the long ascent didn’t help. Despite wind-blown cloud and a fairly heavy pack, once the rocky-ridge was gained the walk became more enjoyable. It’s not good to get too far ahead of yourself as there’s still a fair way to go. Tantalising glimpses of the neighbouring Laithach sub-summit of Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibh Bhig were briefly available for rapid camera deployment. This ‘pointy peak’ looks almost man-made but it’s just the effect of erosion.
I was hoping to see the Lancaster wreck in the corrie below but had to await the walk out for that. The summit of Ruadh Stac Mor is rocky but there are large areas of grass on peaty soil just below it. A rough cairn stands at the high point but there is no shelter as such. Walking a little way north past the summit gave me some ‘spongy’ grassy moss to set up on, at approx. NG 9514 6119. The weary walk in had taken some 2 hours and 46 minutes but I had made time to mark it all on GPS.
I hadn’t the stomach for an alert the night before so the first job was to phone Roy (via O2) and ask him for a spot. I’d obviously skipped the hotel breakfast; substituting three biscuits but with two tops to activate in the day and an 8pm evening meal deadline to meet, I could not afford to hang around for much more than 3 hours per summit. As usual, Roy was ready to act.
BEINN EIGHE - (RUADH STAC MOR), GM/WS-052, 1010m (3314ft), 8 pts, 09:24 to 12:34 BST. 8 deg C, 20 mph wind. Mostly low-cloud. High cloud later. WAB-NG96. LOC-IO77GO. New for SOTA.
Standing this far north makes 40m an easy choice if maximum numbers of chasers are to be reached. CW and QRO just reinforce the effectiveness. Roy G4SSH and Kevin G0NUP, both in Scarborough were the first stations ever to bag this one for SOTA. After squeezing between other activations at 7.033, I used mainly 20W but on occasions as much as 80 Watts were needed to log a 32-strong mix of G and overseas chasers in 55 minutes. Quite a few ops sent, ‘Thanks for the ‘new one’ which does make one feel as if something has been achieved. This was an excellent start but I was not to know it would go downhill from there.
A frequency of 7.065 was eventually settled upon but just 5 stations could hear my 30 to 60W signals. After ‘pulling teeth’ on here for 20 minutes I thought 80m might be in better shape. Stations which made it through on 40m SSB were: G4TXB, G3RMD, HB9AGH, GW7AAV and M0COP.
On 3.724 Kevin G0NUP heard me straight away but his 33 report was in response to 80W at my end. This wasn’t particularly promising but I was glad of the IC706 in lieu of the FT817 used for Scottish SOTA last year. At least I was now ‘found’ and starting with Carolyn G6WRW, a total of 9 UK & Irish ops were worked in as many minutes. With such powers, transmissions had to be short so apologies if I sounded a bit clipped. Easy QSO’s were available with GA0OGN on Barra in the Outer Hebrides, MA0XXP in Glasgow and GM8UPI/P on Skye. All gave me good reports. After fruitless CQ’ing it was time to try CW again.
The intended QRG was the usual 3.532 but Roy warned me of fishermen conversing there. I could hear them too. A phoned warning and request for a spot on 3.525 gave Roy G4SSH an easy task but it did also enable Mike EI2CL to put WS52 in his log. Other than these two and despite putting the afternoon activation in jeopardy with powerful CQ’ing, no further stations heard me. This was a pity; I won’t be around these parts again for a while!
If 80 had been difficult, what chance 160? More in hope than expectation Roy posted me on 1.832 but a few minutes of CQing understandably proved fruitless. Suddenly I thought it would be all too easy. Phil G4OBK was coming in at 579 but the only response to my 100W efforts was a disappointing ‘Nil!’ An unknown G3 twice rose briefly in QSB at around 10:46z but there was scant chance of making a QSO; the incoming signal would best be described as 219 when it was there at all.
Elgin repeater was romping in but calls on 145.500 went unanswered. Later I ‘kicked myself’ for not trying the unofficial Inverness net frequency of 145.575. I would have to be satisfied with a modest total (considering the circumstances) of 48 QSO’s on all bands but I could not afford further time or power.
WS52 to WS63:
This was just a simple matter of retracing footsteps as far Spidean’s SW ridge and then on up to the wall enclosed trig point. Some of this had to be done in cloud but when the views did open up, the camera got put to good use. I had not really expected the Lancaster wreck to be visible with the naked eye but there, over 1km away on the rocks at the foot of three impressive vertical buttresses in perhaps the finest corrie in Scotland, rested what looked very much like an aluminium panel.
At 13:00 I met my first walker. He was making his way up the final part of the scree path which runs up from the SE corner of Corrie Mhic Fhearchair to Col-868. He commented that it had been quite difficult, ‘Two steps forward and one back.’ Just after that, I saw a deer. It was between the summit of Coinneach Mhor and the skirt-path, towards which I was heading. What was a deer doing at 3000 feet? Maybe it was just trying to get from one grassy glen to another via the shortest route. I found myself wishing I had its fitness and fleet of foot; it wasn’t hanging around.
At NG 9545 5974, there was evidence of a path descending the southern flank from the ridge. I wish I’d known this in 1995. It would have been preferable to random scree and unstable rocks.
WS63’s trig point was marked at NG 96518 59632. The altimeter-equipped GPS when placed on its top, read 974m. However, this is not the true summit. That is 993m high, lies some 150m NW and is marked by a pile of stones. A short but very easy scramble is required to reach it but I set up my mast about 25m beyond it at around NG 9663 5977 (unconfirmed ref). Fitting the dipole into the available space was no problem but because there was probably more rock than grass, greater effort was required to anchor the end sticks than on WS52. The WS52 – WS63 summit transfer had taken 75 minutes.
BEINN EIGHE - (SPIDEAN COIRE NAN CLACH), GM/WS-063, 993m (3258ft), 6 pts, 13:49 to 17:12 BST. 9 deg C, 15 mph wind. Some low-cloud at first. Hazy sun and good views later. WAB-NG95. LOC-IO77HN. New for SOTA.
What a prize for John G4WSX who must have been listening intently on 7.032 at 13:19z. Provided the database was up to date, he will ever have the distinction of being the first to work WS63 for SOTA points. What a success 40m CW was destined to be. Because a battery had to be changed in the middle of the session, it took an hour and a half but in the end no less than 53 stations had success. Furthermore, only 20 Watts were generally needed and that was dropped to 10W for the final 20 minutes. 40m was giving everybody a sporting chance of success by reaching from near UK out as far as F, HB, OE, HA, SP, DL, 9A and OK. EI, PA, SM and LA were also worked. Reports on the WS63 signals ranged between 539 and 599 with a few 449’s and a 339 from DL1FU. Frid had failed to hear me going back several times but eventually made a good QSO at 14:10z.
Just after Frid’s success the 8.8 Ah Li-Po gave out and I was forced to dig out the 4.4 Ah reserve. This would normally cause a 4 minute delay but a walker got interested in my station and wanted to talk causing a 15 minute absence and the loss of all further hopefuls. A new spot from G4SSH did the trick and we were back in business. While I was working on the battery change the sun showed itself. The last of the wispy cloud blew away and my XYL’s car was easily visible, in line with Loch Bharranch, 3000 feet below.
A call on the WAB QRG of 7.060 MHz quickly brought in Brian G8ADD. Steve GW7AAV was next in line. This ‘WAB channel’ had its advantages as Roger G0TRB added his club-call GB1WAB. The countries list was not as extensive for the SSB session but as well as G, I worked into ON, OE, EI, DL, 2W, PA. Perhaps the most interesting was I1/MM0BIX/P; a Scott on holiday at Alba, Italy. He gave my 80W signal a 59 plus 5dB report whence I realised I could drop the power. Also worthy of note was another holidaymaker in the form of GM/PA3EQB (QRP) who was a difficult 43 (with QSB) copy. RF output was generally around 30W but it was far less a struggle than on WS52 in the morning. Fortunately it was a quiet frequency. However, the session took 45 minutes for the 25 stations logged.
80 and 160 were left out of this activation partly because of the small reserve battery but mainly because of time and the fact that G’s had come in pretty well on 40 along with the continentals.
A CQ on 145.500 with 5W from an IC E90 into a half-wave vertical brought in a single station; 2M0IBO. I had last worked Jon from Suilven in May 2008 and his QTH was at Longmorn near Elgin. He suggested I try the Inverness crowd on 145.575 but although two mobiles heard me there, I was not good enough to be readable. The invitation to, ‘Try again later’ had to be declined in favour of the up coming descent.
THE DESCENT from WS63:
After making my way back to the trig point it was a simple retracing down the SW ridge as far as the cairn and then turn left into Coire an Laoigh, where the path was easier to follow than on the way up. As it got warmer and more sheltered I noticed my aching legs and was mightily pleased to reach the car by 18:21. Within 45 minutes I was 25 miles away and luxuriating in a hot bath. The descent had taken 1 hr 9 minutes.
QSO summary – WS52:
40m CW: 32
40m SSB: 5
80m SSB: 9
80m CW: 2
160m CW: 0
2m FM: 0
Total WS52: 48.
QSO summary – WS63:
40m CW: 53
40m SSB: 25
2m FM: 1
Total WS63: 79.
TOTAL QSO’s for the DAY: 127.
SOTA Points: 14.
Battery utilisation - QRO: Two summits: 100% of 8.8 Ah Li-Po. Estimated 60% of 4.4 Li-Po reserve
Ascent & distance: 1,290m (4,232ft) – 11.7km (7.3 mls).
Elapsed times: Walking time: 5hr-10min (2:46 to WS52 + 1:15 WS52 to WS63 + 1:09 down WS63).
Summit time: 6hr-33min (WS52 – 3:10 + WS63 – 3:23).
Gross time: 11hr-43min.
Once again this wasn’t the smartest way to ‘ease back’ into some ‘real’ SOTA after a lazy summer but that’s how it ended up. I have been busy scanning 100s of old family photos and cleaning out my garage. ‘Training’ consisted of two walks to Scarborough with a lift back each time so it was not surprising that I felt a bit weary and stiff with sore thigh muscles the next day.
It was useful to confirm & mark a new (to me) ascent path. Though I have been up on that ridge twice before, this was my first time on Ruadh Stac Mor. The views improved throughout the day and there was no rain.
The usual QSB on the 80 & 40m bands was partly counteracted by QRO; somewhat easier than the GM/QRP efforts of last year and well worth the extra weight. Even with high power, Top Band was a failure but it often is in daylight. Also, I did not give sufficient notice but the Inverness stations GM4FAM and GM0UDL (Cris & Andy who I worked on 160m last year) did not appear this time.
It isn’t always the case but the contrast between CW and SSB seemed even more exaggerated on this occasion. CW looked like an exacting science whilst SSB was more like pulling teeth. There is no doubt in my mind, about which is best for SOTA operations. 2m FM with a simple aerial and a few watts is not going to set the world on fire from these regions. 40m was by far the most productive band.
The rock samples which I recovered from these two tops are now in my collection. I expected to be troubled by midges on this sortie but saw none. That may have been just down to wind speeds.
I always say it but GM is a difficult country (like some others) to amass SOTA activator points. Roads that ‘go high’ are rare indeed so altitude must be painstakingly made on foot or at best by bike. It was not true of this expedition but walks-in are generally further (as I was to find out on my next expedition to Slioch) and the ground more rugged. Paths are less well trod than in England or completely absent on lesser known routes and the more northerly latitude means that the WX is harsher. GM activators certainly get my respect!
Thanks: To ALL STATIONS WORKED and to G4SSH, G3RMD, GW7AAV, G8ADD & HA5CW for spotting support. To G4SSH Alerts and to Phil G0UUU for saving the SOTAWatch spots. Finally, to my XYL Denise for being so tolerant and for treating me to a great holiday!
73, John G(M)4YSS,
using SSEG GS0OOO/P.
(This summit entered under GM4YSS/P for SOTA purposes)
SLOICH – (GM/NS-011) on 12-09-09: See http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=3662#foot