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G4YSS: G/LD-037 on 160m, 13-12-17


#1

LITTLE MELL FELL G/LD-037 on 2m-FM QRP & 80m-160m QRO
G4YSS using GX0OOO/P unaccompanied
All times UTC

RADIO EQUIPMENT:
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver without internal batteries
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20m
Four section, 5m CFC mast with 1m end sticks
One 5Ah Li-Po (no reserve)
Unitone ‘D shape’ ear-cup phones.

Reserves:
IC-E90 4-Band, 5W-VHFM Handheld (not used)
Half-wave vertical J-Pole for 2m-FM (not used)
Baofeng UV-3R with set-top helical (used to call G4WHA/A & G0TDM)

Other Equipment:
Garmin GEKO 301 GPS
Dunlop umbrella
QRO Packweight: 9.5 kg (21 pounds) including 0.5 litres fluids (not used)

INTRO:
This was the second day of a 4-night stay at the Windermere Hotel with my XYL. It seems that we didn’t pick the best week but when all said and done, it is December. Ironically with only three possible walking days available, the day of the drive over was sunny.

The afternoon drive from Windermere via Kirkstone Pass and Watermillock, took 45 minutes. There is space to park a couple of cars at The Hause (NY 4234 2353). This is a mere half kilometre south of the summit and at a goodly start height of 380m ASL. These facts and the size of Little Mell Fell, 505m makes this a quick and easy SOTA. Moreover, since it’s a 2 pointer, here is a very efficient way to earn some winter bonus.

Thus the task of actually climbing LD37 is little more than routine, so what it boils down to is the summit stay and how the radio part of it goes. It has a gently sloping summit area clothed with grass and reed beds and it can tend towards boggy. There is also a wet, muddy area to cross just after the stile from the road. Today it was more solid, being mostly frozen. After that it’s a steep, short pull up with footsteps worn in the ground to help you.

One reason for choosing LD37 today was the weather. High winds with snow showers were forecast but the real intent was to try to qualify on 160m to bring me a little closer to MG on that band. I had managed one Top Band QSO from Helvellyn G/LD-003 the day before and considering the time of day, before 2pm, I was lucky to even log Phil G4OBK. I would have liked to stay until closer to dusk but getting down the mountain was hard enough in daylight because of ice. Today, with an easy return in the offing, the only time limit was the hotel meal time of 6pm, assuming I could put up with the weather, that is.

Route:
There are four sections to the route. 1) From the road and over stile-1 (NY 4237 2357) to stile-2 (gate often open). 2) Steeply straight up to join a transverse path where you turn left (NY 4234 2371). 3) Go along here for a short distance to turn right (NY 4226 2380) on a 4) new path which goes straight up to the trig (NY 4233 2402).

I set off walking in dull conditions at 13:45. The ascent took just 11 minutes to the trig but I needed a couple of rests on the steep bits.

LITTLE MELL FELL, G/LD-037, 505m, 2 pts, 13:56 to 16:26. 0 deg C. 30 mph wind decreasing. Mixed conditions of overcast with 10 seconds of sunshine, increasing snow showers with poor visibility. Intermittent precipitation static. Dark at the end & the descent. (IO84NO, WAB: NY42 Trig: TP4447).

Lacking a steep drop-off in any direction, there is no shelter on this summit apart from low reeds and a depression in the ground that tends to be wet. I opted for the hole in the ground as ducking behind the reeds made no difference to the wind speed.

The dipole went up easily once I had managed to force the mast into the frozen ground. However, this system uses no guys so the two radiating legs finished at a sizeable included angle to compensate for the strong wind.

145.400 FM - 2 QSO’s:
At just after 2pm I called with the 2-Watt pocket handheld on 145.400 MHz, hoping to alert either Geoff G4WHA/A or John G0TDM at Penrith, which is less than 10km to the east. In fact it was Geoff who answered and he in turn alerted John. Within 5 minutes I had half the QSO’s needed for a qualification but more importantly, spotting support for the forthcoming QSY to 80m. Geoff spotted me but who, apart from him and John, would hear my mousy signal, especially from this location?

Nothing further was heard on 145 but the two friendly voices coming in from Penrith at 59 had helped restore a sense of calm in threatening weather conditions. I could see the Lakeland Mountains to the west but the clouds above them looked angry and they would be with me eventually.

3.556.5 CW - 7 QSO’s:
It came as a surprise that the traditional frequency of 3.557 was busy. I had alerted this activation but it was largely thanks to a spot from John G0TDM, that I got answers to CQ’s. QSO’s as follows: G0TDM; DL1FU; G4WSB; G4OBK; PA7ZEE and G8CPZ.

All signals were 599 to me apart from Frid DL1FU - 579. Incoming reports ranged from 229 from PA to 599 from G4OBK Phil. In between were 449, 559 and 549 but John G0TDM, who I had been armchair copy to on 2m-FM with a couple of watts and a duck, was now giving me 339! Worrying to say the least. This did prompt me to check the equipment and VSWR again but there was nothing wrong that I could find. John was 599 to me so it could have been his noise level. The last QSO time was 14:46 and my power was 50 Watts.

(Included in the above total is a CW QSO with PA0SKP Sake at 15:05z. See 3.760 SSB below.)

3.760 SSB - 10 QSO’s:
After announcing the change of mode on the CW frequency, it seemed almost seamless. Later I discovered that John had alerted the ‘world of microphones’ with a QSY spot. Power was 50 Watts again.

In the log: G0TDM; M0JLA; EI3GYB; G0VWP; MM0XPZ; MI0RTY; G4ZRP; 2E0VMD; G4WHA/A and G4OBK. I gave out mainly 59’s apart from Brian G4ZRP - 57 and the closest chaser Geoff G4WHA/A - 55. Coming back were a mix of 57’s, 59’s and a 58, apart from the close-in Geoff and John again with 56 and 51 respectively. A few regulars were missing. Christmas shopping perhaps? It’s got to be done.

I heard Sake PA0SKP call me half way through the session. I heard him saying that he couldn’t hear me well enough and would wait until later. By the end of the session and despite several calls in, he was still not in the log and Phil G4OBK heard his somewhat desperate request “Please CW”. It was fortunate that Phil was on the channel because they arranged it between themselves after Phil relayed to Sake that I understood.

When you get a request for a mode change in the middle of a session it can be difficult. I am not clever enough to know which way that each rig ‘jumps’ when the mode is changed nor how far. In the event Phil sent some ‘V’s over Sake’s signal for me to net onto but by the time I’d found the mode switch in the dark rucksack and got the thick mitts off to press it, they’d gone. However, after a couple of tries Sake was in the log with a 599/ 559 exchange. In fact my rig had to read 3.760.4 to make the QSO in the narrow filter. On 3.760 LSB I could hear the thump of Phil’s CW but could not resolve it. All’s well that ends well and I didn’t mind the short delay because the light was fading and that would be good for 160m!

With no more takers it was time for the main act. Top Band.

1.832 CW - 5 QSO’s:
The coils didn’t tune first time but after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the 80m dipole was near enough resonant on both 160m frequencies. Phil had said on 80m SSB, “Don’t fall over fitting the coils.” There was no fall but one end stick had ended in a bog. I didn’t want to fill my new Scarpa Rangers with icy bog water this early in their commission.

Ten minutes later I was working Phil G4OBK at 559/ 449 but he upped that to 549 by the end of the QSO. A good start but could we now capitalise on the time of day? In the next 15 minutes the happy answer was, ‘Yes.’ No doubt helped on (as I found out later) by a spot on the DX Cluster by my lad Phil G0UUU, who was listening on an online receiver in Cheshire, I logged the following stations: SM6CPY who gave his name as Carl 559 – 569; SA4BLM Lars 599/ 339 (SOTA chaser); ON6NA 579 x 2 (name given was Paul). Finally Mike DJ5AV 579/ 559, also a regular chaser who no doubt picked up spots from Phil G4OBK on Sotawatch.

Qualified! In fact in all the excitement I might have been a bit generous with the signal reports but they’re just numbers which validate the QSO. The fact that I was holding unto a brolly with one arm, gripping the key with one hand and sending with the other while trying to peer into a dark rucksack with a head torch obscured by a hood, didn’t make for accuracy. I don’t use the FT817’s display illumination. It wastes power. All this in murk and increasing snowfall, some of which was making it around the umbrella onto me and the equipment. Of course as every activator knows, this is typical of winter operating so why complain?

At 15:30 it was now time to put the icing on the cake with 160m SSB.

1.843 SSB - 2 QSO’s:
After a QSY spot from Phil G0UUU, at 15:42, a 50 Watt CQ was picked up by Geoff G4WHA/A in Penrith. The exchange was 55/ 35. This QSO came as a surprise to both of us when you consider that 80m hadn’t done all that well over the same path. A few minutes later Geoff told me on the 2m-FM link that the antenna he uses at the shop is not resonant on 160m. Neither is it resonant on 80m and he accepts a small high VSWR risk to his FT857’s output. It seems to work so let’s not knock it. I do the same at home with my IC706-2G and Windom. Shutdown helps of course. More often than not, people are using anything they can to get on 160m. Geoff also mentioned that he’d logged LD37 on many bands over the years, HF (apart from 30m) VHF and UHF but never before on 160. Only too pleased to oblige but just as importantly in my eyes, thanks for a valuable chase.

A few minutes and a several CQ’s later, the snowfall began to increase again and with static in the earphones at full scale deflection on the meter, there was little choice but to switch off for a short while. Ten minutes later it had cleared along with the snow shower and a call to Geoff on 2m-FM got us up and running again.

Just like the day before on LD3, I could hear EI3GYB calling at about 55 but unlike then, we managed a QSO. Michael’s voice rose half an octave when he at last picked up my response and he gave me a 51 report. It shows once again what a difference a later summit stay can make to 160m.

There followed 3 or 4 minutes of fruitless calling after which the snow returned and the static with it. A final call on 145.400 and Geoff was kind enough to round off the activation at 4pm with a spot, “QRT due to heavy static.”

The Descent:
Packing up in the dark and in wind-blown snowfall wasn’t as unpleasant as it could have been but I did end up with a numb left hand. Not everything can be done with mittens on. The rucksack lid was full of snow but the rig was given priority. It was good to get moving again, heading down in the light of the headlamp, with snow stinging west-facing exposed flesh. Visibility was reduced so I checked the GPS. There are at least two paths off this one and getting the right one is priority. Even on a small hill, ending up in the wrong valley in darkness can be more than inconvenient.

Including a few stops for photos and to check the direction of travel, the descent took 12 minutes to 16:38. It stopped snowing at some point in the descent but the car and the road were peppered with an half an inch of it. A loud beeping was evident on setting off. This turned out to be the front parking sensors on the XYL’s Citroen, fooled by a layer of snow. Modern cars, I ask you? I prefer my old banger where I take responsibility for the parking arrangements.

The drive back to Windermere wasn’t without its dangers. Applying the brakes on the way down the hill to Watermillock caused a minor skid and a vastly increased pulse rate. An illuminated sign in Glenridding announced, ‘Kirkstone Pass is in Winter Condition. Extreme Caution Required.’ Nothing like putting the wind up you for no reason. I imagined being unable to get up or worse, going down the other side in an uncontrolled manner but despite its ASL of 1,500ft, the road was completely clear and I made it back to Windermere in well under an hour. Phew!

QSO’s:
2m FM: 2
80m CW: 7
80m SSB: 10
160m CW: 5
160m SSB: 2
TOTAL: 26

Ascent & Distance:
125m (410ft) of ascent / 2 x 0.7km (0.9 miles) walked.

Observations:
I never thought I’d be writing a report dedicated entirely to Little Mell Fell. It usually comes at the beginning or end of a series of multiple activations. In this case it filled in an afternoon nicely, allowing time to visit Lakeland Plastics with the XYL in the morning and the highlight of tea and scones.

Even better than the scone (expensive but large) were the seven QSO’s on 160m and another five points to the cause. Daylight Top Band is like pulling teeth but add a little darkness and you’re away. I hope there will be some more of these but they are often difficult to arrange. You don’t want to be choosing the wrong mountain that could bite you back but LD37 is ideal for this.

A few times I’ve struggled to make 4 QSO’s on 2m-FM from LD37 and on some occasions, I’ve needed help from either a repeater or the two local ops who supported me today. Bringing HF generally eliminates the anxiety.

80m was busy as early as 14:15 when I switched on. In fact I couldn’t get onto my preferred CW QRG. Fortunately that wasn’t the case with 3.760 SSB; the WAB frequency. Especially when you’re pushed, it can be so much easier to make QSO’s on there. The so called ‘heartbeat’ is a mixed blessing but when you think about it, what better way to discourage use by non-WAB stations and after a while your brain just filters it out.

The weather wasn’t ideal but that just adds to the sense of achievement. Though the temperature was zero and it was pretty windy, I felt relatively comfortable on a 3mm sit mat with a decent coat and umbrella. I should bring a tent peg to anchor it down ala Dave G3TQQ. In the end, the snow didn’t amount to much but it was an inconvenience when the accompanying static wiped all HF band signals.

Geoff G4WHA/A & John G0TDM are regarded highly at the ‘SOTA Table’ in Scarborough Amateur Radio Society for their reliability as chasers on 2m-FM in the NE Lake District and wider area. Today was no exception.

THANKS:
To all stations worked and spotters: G4WHA/A; G0TDM; G4OBK and G0UUU. Your help was invaluable. Without it, winter activation can be a thankless task.

That brings to an end activations for this 3 day break. Only two I’m afraid partly due to rotten WX on the third day but hopefully there’ll be more opportunities in the pursuit of 160m MG.

Cancelled Activation of LD13 on Thursday 14-Dec-17:
Apologies reference our final day. After alerting Coniston’s Old Man G/LD-013 on 2m & 4m-FM, I did drive to the car park on the Walna Scar road in pouring rain to see a snow and cloud-capped OMC. I put on waterproofs and got ready. There were two other cars there. One empty and another with a couple who looked like they were getting ready to ascend. When I enquired if they would be doing the summit, they replied, ‘In theory.’ Nonetheless, shortly after that they set off in full waterproofs. A third car arrived, stayed 10 minutes then left.

The BBC forecast featured a possible weather window, or at least a break in the rain, starting early afternoon. After waiting there 2 hours for this to materialise, it became evident that it wasn’t coming. Heavy rain was blowing across in waves 95% of the time. At this point the BBC forecast changed to heavy rain until evening and I asked my son to post a cancelled notice on the alert. Luckily there was a decent phone signal at 750ft ASL.

This was a disappointment. These things can be done but as I know first hand, it can be very hard indeed to the point of desperation and satisfaction only comes afterwards. Another worry was the mountain forecast of 30 to 40mph winds. That combined with the probability of water-lubricated ice on an exposed path higher up was a concern. Also the car park temp was 3C pointing to heavy snow on the summit and a sleet band to walk up through. I know from bitter experience on the three 8-pointers in the Gable group in February 2007 and on other occasions, that sleet or cold rain combined with a high wind is about as bad as it gets for chilling. Snow is far more preferable, at least if it’s the dry stuff.

The alternative was some WAB mobile activity on 7.160 so I put two squares on during the drive back to the hotel, working 4 stations on a fickle band. On the plus side, this report got finished.

73, John
(G4YSS using Scarborough Special Events Group Club Call GX0OOO/P.)

Photos: 1-3-7-14-18-28-30-34

Above: Driving up Kirkstone Pass with Threshthwaite Mouth; the col between Stony Cove LD18 & High St LD11, ahead.

Above: Passing Red Screes LD17 with its steep path, as seen from Kirkstone Pass.

Above: Parking place at The Hause with Little Mell Fell LD37 behind.

Above: Summit of Little Mell Fell LD37 with trig point TP-4447.

Above: 160m loading coils and the onset of dusk make for a good combination.

Above: Snow, static, darkness & umbrella. G/LD-037 on 160m.

Above: G/LD-037 on 160m. It could be a lot worse.

Above: G/LD-037’s scant shelter - a hole in the ground. Packing away.

Above: Back to the parking place at The Hause.


SOTA News January 2018
#2

Hi John,

Not only was 160m a first time chase on Little Mell Fell for me but so was 80m. In fact the only bands i have not chased the summit on is 15m and 12m and of course 30m. Also 13cm or above.

It was a great achievement qualifying on 160m especially with the weather conditions. While we were on 2m i could hear the hail or sleet hitting your umbrella yet in Penrith it was fine! Little Mell Fell is about 11.1 km as the crow flies from the summit to the shop.

I am always glad to help any activator out with spots etc and of course contacts to qualify summits. Some of the smaller summits are hard to qualify on 2m especially during the week.

Look forward to working you again when you are in LD or NP.

73’s Geoff G4WHA/A / GM4WHA