BEN NEVIS GM/WS-001 via the Tourist Route, 19-May-2010.
See Also previous:
http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=2368# (23 Sept 2008)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Summits/message/11656 (10 Feb 2006)
SSEG Club-call GS0OOO/P & (GM4YSS/P used for database).
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 11.1V, 2.2 Ah Li-Po battery. Garmin GEKO-301 GPS. Reserves: IC-E90 4-Band H/H. Spare 2.2 Ah Li-Po.
Pack weight: 12 kg including 3.75 litre water.
After the upset and family problems of 2009, my XYL Denise suggested some ‘Scotland therapy.’ I could never disagree with such a thing and the result was that Fort William self catering accommodation was booked as far back as last October.
As well as a daily checking of the mountain forecast at the excellent Nevisport Outdoor shop in Fort William, a drive up the back road half a mile from the bungalow that we were renting got us an unobstructed view of much of the Ben Nevis Tourist Route. It was mainly clear but there remained large patches of lying snow near the top. A trip round WS3 and WS1 via the CMD Arete as per 2008, was out of the question this year. The easier tourist route would be ideal because the aim was to try to realize a year-long ambition of Daughter-in-Law Hazel, to climb Ben Nevis.
If one is planning to spend a couple of hours sitting at 4400 feet ASL, it is prudent to look for a good forecast, particularly when you are taking along someone who has no experience of mountains this high at this latitude. No forecast for any day in the week was anything but disappointing from one aspect or another. Either it was to rain, drizzle, snow or there would be blanket cloud. At least it was predicted to be a relatively warm with light winds later in the week. We arrived on Saturday the 15th May and one by one, the days passed by; each one deemed unsuitable or one reason or another.
Tuesday was discounted on WX grounds but when daylight arrived, there was not a cloud in the sky with the complete Ben visible from top to bottom from dawn ‘til dusk! It caught a few people out and I for one became quite morose about missing out on all those fantastic views. We spent much of that afternoon staring at the missed opportunity from a pleasure boat on Loch Linnhe resolving to go the next day ‘no matter what.’ Indeed the prediction for Wednesday was for early rain followed by blanket cloud on the hills for the remainder but go we would, no matter what.
A ready made GPS route from my activation of The Ben on 10-Feb-2006 was reused for this 2010 sortie. In it were programmed an extra 8 waypoints adding skull and crossbones icons to denote the edge of the North Face at its deepest penetrations of the summit plateau. Other than that, it was the standard Tourist Route which runs from the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at around 25m ASL to the top via Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe and up nine or ten zig-zags to the 1347m summit.
We didn’t need the alarm clocks set for 4am; the drumming of heavy rain on the tiles was enough. What good fortune; it had more or less cleared by the time we called the taxi to take us to Glen Nevis at 04:30. That cost a tenner but it was well worth it and left my XYL with the car to better carry out ‘Grandma duties’ for the day. The taxi driver was a cheery soul too and he gave us some advice from his own experiences on The Ben.
We got underway, crossing the Youth Hostel Bridge at 05:12 and I wondered who would end up the most tired today; the two ‘Nevisers’ or Grandma looking after 2-year old Jack. A steep initial section up to a ‘T’ junction with the main path is a bit of a shock to the system but it was well paved and we had pledged to go very slowly today. The plan was to take twice the normal time over the ascent. Progress was indeed slow but the object was for Hazel to expend the minimum energy and just to get there. There were good views and video to be had, up past Red Burn and to well after the start of the zig-zags until low-cloud took charge. Also on this section was a team of path repairmen with a small digger. They stay overnight in cabins. After that we were in constant hill fog. We saw and heard Meadow Pippets, a Black Grouse higher up and a finally a Raven and a Herring Gull strutting around the summit snow field looking for leftovers.
After the final zig-zag, there comes a straight, cairn-marked section with two distinct steps. All this was covered with deep snow. Hazel was in some distress by now so I went ahead to kick steps and help her along. All the way up, I tried to relate the distances to the summit with something she knew like for instance, ‘You just have Burnhope Seat left to climb; Pen-y-Ghent, Gt.Shunner, Lovely Seat and Buckden Pike are all behind you.’ What a joy to see the look of relief and pride on her face when the summit shelter and trig point finally appeared out of the mist. ‘Yeah – done it!’ I didn’t spoil it by telling her that the descent might easily be worse!
BEN NEVIS, GM/WS-001, 10 pts, 11:00 to 13:13 BST, 8 deg C, 10-15 mph wind. Low cloud – no views. Lying snow to 1m deep. No rain at any time. WAB-NN17, LOC-IO76LT. About 10 people on the summit later but no one when we arrived.
After quickly taking the summit photos, it was down to business. Obviously the best place to activate the mountain was on the leeward side of the emergency shelter but despite there being no one on the summit but us, I did what I normally do and that is to move to a quieter albeit less comfortable spot. The ruined wall of the old observatory was chosen as the QTH but there was little advantage wind-shield wise because the snow was 3 or 4 feet up the walls. Nevertheless, we stamped out somewhere to sit and tried to phone Roy G4SSH for a spot.
Even after climbing onto the shelter plinth, ‘SOS calls only’ was the message on both Orange mobiles. The good news was that we’d had coverage on the way up but not knowing how bad snow conditions would be, had asked Roy to post an alert for 11:30Z on 10.118 CW. The trouble was that we were fully an hour early.
10.118 CW: - 19 QSO’s
This band was chosen for three reasons. Firstly, I would need a longer range / higher frequency to reach many of the chasers from this far north and secondly conditions on 40m have been atrocious lately. When using QRP, it’s best to try and find a band that’s in reasonable nick. Finally, we had limited time in that I had little idea just what state Hazel was in and how long it might take us to get down.
After initial difficulty because no one was listening, 30m proved to be a good choice. Several CQ’s got no response but eventually Reg G3WPF turned up with a 599 signal. This was both unexpected and encouraging. As well as catering for the usual traffic, short skip was in operation too and I worked the following G’s: G3WPF, G4ELZ, G3OHC, G4SSH, G0NUP, G4WSX, G3RDQ and G0TDM. The majority of stations worked were from the following countries: OK, 9A, HB, SM, I2 and ON. 19 QSOs with 5W.
7.032 CW – 10 QSO’s:
Remembering the usual pile up on here, I was prepared to be busy but only worked 10 stations in all. The loudest without doubt was Ken GM0AXY in Edinburgh, who was also the closest. Conditions seemed poor, QSB was quite severe and many did not cope well with my 5W signal. After spending some time trying to get back to them, the following were casualties: HB9AAQ Fred, DF5WA Mike and Mike EI2CL.
7.060 SSB – 3 QSO’s:
If QRP CW was giving poor results, what price SSB? I worked just three stations: G6LKB, M3ULV and G4ELZ. G4JZF was unlucky but I tried my best.
145.500 FM – Nil QSO’s.
CQ calls on here around noon UTC using 5W to a vertical half-wave produced nil QSO’s. I should have tried the ‘local’ Inverness net frequency of 145.575 but forgot.
At 3.5 hours, the walk down took less time than expected but it was not without a lot of pain for my companion who suffers from a joint disorder. Though she is proud of her achievement, Hazel say’s she will never be going up Ben Nevis again. After an elated start down snow fields, the descent gradually developed into a gruelling, knee crunching, ankle aching, spine-bending mind-over-matter fight. The waiting car with my XYL and Jack was the most welcome of sights to her. The clag was down well below Half Way Lochan by this time so views were not available for most of it. The only things of interest was a fleeting glimpse of the north face as we walked past No 2 Gully and a Slow-worm spotted lower down.
SOTA wise, this was a low key effort; the main object of the exercise was not radio but making and surviving the journey. 10 Megs proved a good choice for QRP, especially considering the short skip conditions.
QSO’s: 19 on 30m CW. 10 on 7.032 CW. 3 on 7.060 SSB. . No answers to CQ’s on 145.500 FM. Total: 32.
Ascent & distance: 1325 m – 15 km.
Elapsed time: Walking time – up: 5hr - 48min. Down: 3hr – 28min. Summit time: 2hr-13min. Gross time: 11hr-29min.
Thanks to all stations worked and to those who spotted me, namely Roy G4SSH and others unknown as yet.
73, John G(M)4YSS,
using SSEG GS0OOO/P.
(This summit will be entered under GM4YSS/P for SOTA purposes)