G4YSS Activation of NP6, NP15, NP9 on 05-02-17
G/NP-006 /6 GREAT SHUNNER FELL
G/NP-015 /4 GREAT KNOUTBERRY HILL
G/NP-009 /6 BUCKDEN PIKE
NP6: 160m-80m CW/ SSB QRO
NP15: 2m-FM QRP only
NP9: 20m-80m-160m CW/ SSB QRO
G4YSS - unaccompanied
All times UTC
Sun times: 07:50 and 16:57
NP6 & NP9:
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M HF (80 thru 10) 50 Watt linear amplifier with 160m capability
Adjustable link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20 with loading coils for 160m
5m home-brew CFC mast with 1m end sticks
Baofeng UV-5R, 2-Band, 5W V-UHF H/H (200gm).
50 Watt Linear Amp for 2m. (NP15 - Not used - wrong connector!)
NP6 & NP15: Icom IC-E90 4 Band, 5W V-UHF H/H (not used)
NP9: UV-5R 2 Band, 5W V-UHF H/H (not used)
NP6: One 5 Ah Li-Po battery
NP15: One 6 Ah Li-Po battery (carried but not used)
NP9: One 5 Ah Li-Po battery and one 2.2 Ah in reserve (NP9 only)
Packweight: 9.7kg (21.4 pounds) inc. 250ml water
Garmin Geko 301 GPS
Hitachi MP3 Player
This was partly guilt driven. I had not done a SOTA since the New Year camp on Pen-y-Ghent a month ago and the winter bonus period was draining away. Another incentive was the light at the end of a very long Top Band tunnel. It has taken me 13 years thus far but after a short exercise in Excel, it became evident that I was just over 90% of the way to achieving a thousand activator points qualified with at least four QSO's on 160m. 90% sounds close to a 160m MG certificate but at the current rate of advance it might take another two years.
As everyone knows, the problem with 160m is that it doesn't work very well in established daylight, which makes it pretty difficult to log four or more chasers. That has never bothered me before now; one QSO on the band has been satisfactory and is more a bonus.
So how to guarantee 160m qualification? Apart from overnight summit stays, it boils down to early and late activations in winter. The trouble is that these bring their problems; dark walking being the main one and greater cold and discomfort another. Not only that but any band specialisation in SOTA relies more heavily on the goodwill and co-operation of a reduced band of chasers.
So for 160m it's not only the activator who's inconvenienced. The chasers need to be at their radios at unsociable times - in this case from 07:30 on a Sunday morning! That's quite cruel, especially if you’ve got work the next morning but balanced against it is a surprising amount of enthusiasm that Top Band chasers seem to have. Nevertheless always a fiercely independent person, leaning on others doesn't come naturally but when all said and done, SOTA is a partnership. Activators and chasers are of equal value and when it comes to operating skill, the chasers need the most.
The thought of getting up in dead of night for another long hard day becomes less and less attractive with advancing years but the Top Band quest gave me some motivation. The original plan was to try to put on four NP summits which is achievable at this time of year, albeit for basic activations. One day in February 2015, I went round NP6; NP15; NP16 and NP9 but they were all done on 2m-FM and I was fitter then. Tempting providence (an old expression of my mother's - born 1915) I alerted these four but added a note that Dodd Fell - NP16 was expendable and so it proved to be. One way to achieve my goal is by activating ten 6-pointer summits in winter so I made sure that the 160m start and finish summits were both six pointers, alerting the two 4-pointers in the middle of the day for 2m-FM only.
From SD 8688 9570 on Buttertubs Pass the track is easily followed via Coal Pit to the fence corner at SD 8694 9639 (turn left). The fence bends again at SD 8680 9653, on the way past Grimy Gutter Hags (I can't resist that name). There's another direction change - left (WSW) at SD 8586 9707. The track passes the end of a wall at SD 8542 9687 and after some steep sections you eventually reach a stile (optional) at SD 8503 9723 not far short of the summit.
Left Scarborough at 04:00, arriving via the A684, at Buttertubs Pass well before sunrise, at 06:10 (83 miles). On the way there was occasional drizzle on the windscreen but little of the predicted fog. It being a Sunday, apart from when passing under the A1, I didn't see a single moving vehicle until nearly Leyburn.
Mine were the only tyre tracks left in the thin skim of freshly fallen snow encountered from a little way up the Hawes to Thwaite road but it wasn't snowing then. With snow in mind and the soggy radio log it can produce, I stuck a tiny pound-shop brolly in a fleece pocket. An additional 200 grams would make little difference.
I park on the verge where the grassy track leaves the road (SD 8688 9570). It was pitch black and foggy which didn't fill me with enthusiasm but there was time for a short rest. At least it wasn't windy.
I got walking by 06:39 in darkness, fog and a light breeze on the snow-covered track and following the arrow on the GPS. It was then that I noticed a potential problem. For some reason, maybe a loose USB plug, the GPS had only loaded the first three routes from the computer. I had nothing for NP9 Buckden Pike. The knowledge that I'd be coming off NP9 in the dark at the end of the day made me slightly nervous. I know the route pretty well but it's advisable to have reassurance particularly if the mist is down.
I hardly ever wear a coat for SOTA walking. Normally the outer layer is just a Pertex lined fleece. I hadn't got much more that a quarter mile before a light snow began falling. Frail as it was, the ladies umbrella fended off most of it but the sight of that and the headlight had grouse fleeing noisily. The frost wasn’t severe enough to completely solidify the bogs of Grimy Gutter and some care was needed.
Three quarters of the way up it was light enough to pocket the lamp and continue over the stile and up to the summit shelter. There was a general covering of perhaps 2 or 3cm of snow but the grass was showing through in many places. Near the shelter where the grass is shorter, the snow had been mostly blown off.
With no visitors expected, the station was set up in the shelter with the mast jammed in behind the wooden seat. I half expected the ground to be frozen solid but the end supports went in quite easily.
Annoyingly the dipole picked this moment to tangle up as it was fed from the reel. It took almost ten minutes with untangle it with frozen hands and some swearing but luckily there was time to spare. The last time it was used, for the New Year campover on NP10, it didn’t wind up neatly because of ice.
G/NP-006: GT.SHUNNER FELL, 716m, 6 pts, 07:29 to 09:40, Minus 1C. Wind: 5 mph. Low-cloud causing moderate icing conditions. Ten minutes of hazy sun near the end (my ration for the day). 2 to 3 cm lying snow. IO84VI, WAB SD89. Trig Pt: TP-3468. Moderate EE phone signal (absent in 2016).
1.832 CW - 4 QSO’s:
The loading coils needed a bit of adjustment but all was ready 5 minutes earlier than advertised. Roy G4SSH heard me checking the VSWR at 07:55 and came in with a report in response to this 5-Watt signal. For the next three contacts 50 Watts was used but other than in Mark's case (589/ 579), I wouldn't say it was without difficulty. Phil G4OBK was varying between 559 to 579 but Nick G4OOE was only coming in at 229. I got 339 and 229 in response but what a brilliant start. NP6 qualified on Top Band already!
1.843 SSB - 4 QSO’s:
First to call in, often the case, was Don G0RQL (57/ 33). Another surprise and tuning ‘one leg of an 80m dipole’ was Dave G4IAR in Loughborough. I then reworked Mark G0VOF in SSB but he wasn’t hearing me well. Last in the log was G8VNW Nick in Threshfield - 36km away. These exchanges were 52/ 44; 55/ 27 and 55/ 47 respectively, then there were no further answers to CQ's. Power was 50 Watts again. There would have been five in the SSB log but regrettably G0FVH - David in Poole - didn't make it. He was 55 to me but I was probably below his local noise level most of the time.
Last time I was here, Phil G4OBK was using his Beverage on receive with an inverted L for transmit. Sadly after a QTH move he is having to tune whatever is available, in this case as I understand it, a 60m band antenna which rebuffs all advances from 80m but which will tune fully on 160m. It was great to hear Phil back on the bands again.
Towards the end of the session chasers were reporting that my signal was gradually dropping. This they were putting down to increasing daylight. I didn't notice until I went to QSY the antenna but the wire had grown to two or three times its normal thickness. The loading coils were within 2 feet of the ground due to the weight of ice which had to be cleared. At the end, in order to get the wire back on its reel, I was forced to repeat this process.
3.557 CW - 20 QSO's:
The 80m band at this time was reminiscent of a daytime 40m a year or two ago. With another three summits in mind, I was banking on a fast turn around, expecting not many more than half a dozen stations. Conditions were exceptionally good and I ended up with 20 QSO's.
Stations worked with 50 Watts: G4SSH; DL1FU; DL3HXX; G4OOE; GM0AXY; DL6WT; F5SQA; PA9CW; SM7DIE; DJ5AV; DL2HWI; OH9XX; DF1PY; G0TDM; DM2SWD; DL6MST; PA0B; HB9BXE; DL6AP/P and G0VOF. Signal reports were mainly fair to good but there was QSB and some QRM. 80m CW took 30 minutes.
3.781 SSB - 15 QSO's:
At 09:05 I sent an SMS to Roy G4SSH who spotted the only clear space that I could find on the band. Clear was perhaps an exaggeration. Nowhere was truly clear - then I remembered. This was Sunday morning!
Stations worked: G0RQL; GI0AZA; G6WRW; G0VWP; G8ADD; G8VNW; G3RDQ; G4IAR; G0TDM; GI0AZB; G0VOF; M0JEA; M6HMK; GM4WHA and finally just getting through in the nick of time, was Karl M3FEH. Everybody was coming in strongly. I gave out three 57's and a 55. The rest were 59. G1BLJ was the one that ‘got away.’ Power for the 18 minute SSB session was 30 Watts.
On comparing the time with my schedule I found a 20 minute discrepancy; mainly due to the weight of traffic in the 80m sessions. After mostly sitting for two hours, it was good to get going if only to thaw out a bit. I made it back to Buttertubs Pass at 10:20 but that was still short of the target time. I had to spend a few more minutes swapping the HF gear in the rucksack for a 50 Watt VHF linear that I wanted to try out from NP15 and NP16. I didn't realise yet that I was wasting my time.
Drive to NP15 (10:27 to 10:50 - 13 miles):
There was no snow to block the way of a 2-WD car, making the drive around to NP15 via the Coal Road quick and easy.
Leaving the Coal Road at SD 7796 8805 you walk via the track, turning left at the gate and sheep pens at SD 7768 8744 and thereafter, up beside the fence. It's a bit boggy in places. There is one thing about this route that is slightly annoying. It comprises the opposite and adjacent sides of a right-angled triangle. I can testify that unfortunately the hypotenuse is steep, rough and pathless. It is quicker but I stopped using it a few years ago. The ascent was started at 10:52 - more than 20 minutes later than in previous years.
G/NP-015: GREAT KNOUTBERRY HILL, 672m, 4 pts. 11:22 to 12:16. 2 to 4 Deg.C. 1 mph wind. Low-cloud. Bright but not sunny. Small amount of lying snow. IO84KP, WAB SD78, Trig Point TP3461. (EE phone signal).
I set up the J-Pole in the rusty pig wire that runs along the wall top and then tried to plug the linear to the battery. That's when I found that the adapter I'd brought had an EC5 connector with the same gender as the battery plug. With little in the rucksack to bodge it with, I connected the UV-5R handheld directly to the antenna. Five Watts would have to suffice but this was another nail in the coffin for the next summit of Dodd Fell NP16. Knowing I would get away without it from NP15, I badly needed the amp for NP16; a poor VHF location. My Moonraker MT270M 2m-70cm mobile rig is away for repair after failing on TX modulation in December and the Kenwood mobile doesn't 'light up' any more.
145.400 FM - 10 QSO's:
The first three stations worked with 5 Watts from the UV-5R to the vertical were G0VOF Mark - Blackburn; M6IIE/P Rob on Winter Hill and G6LKB Dave in Ulverston.
As I sat leaning against the wall, about 15 people arrived at the summit and started a massive picnic. They turned out to be a group associated with a new organisation called 'Ride to Stride' and they were very friendly; asking questions about my activities. One handed me a leaflet that had a photo of the Ribblehead Viaduct and I’m pleased to say that when the time came to hand out the toffees, I was included! You do meet some great people on the fells. The aim of the brochure is to promote a festival of guided walks in the Yorkshire Dales, based around the Settle-Carlisle railway line.
Continuing on: G4TJC/P Simon S2S on Great Coum G/NP-011; GM1VLA Tony - Gretna; M3RDZ Roy - Burnley; G6XBF Walt in Leeds; G4ZRP Brian - Wirral; M0DHD Tony - Heysham and G1NGR/M - a tentative QSO using a from handheld inside a car.
Most stations were fully quieting to me and the lowest reports I got were two 53's. The two that got away: M6LZT/P - lost after an early QSY from 145.500 and G4MKT who Roy M3RDZ indicated was calling me. Nil heard.
I was QRT at 12:10, starting the walk down at 12:16 and arriving back at the Coal Road for 12:40.
NP16 Decision Time:
I knew that NP16 was a goner before I phoned Roy G4SSH. We discussed what could be done with the time gained, opting for an early ascent of what should have been the fourth summit, NP9 Buckden Pike. I would start with a sortie onto 20m before reverting to plan - 80m followed by 160m. I made a mental note to take a reserve battery. Out of the rucksack came the useless 2m-linear and in went the HF gear, mast and two fresh batteries.
The reasons for the decision to scrub Dodd Fell were:
1) Too far behind schedule to pull it back.
2) With the 2m amplifier unusable, doing a 'poor VHF' summit with only QRP could cause further delays.
3) GPS had failed to load the route for NP9 for a dark descent. To get around this, I would have to create a route on the way up.
Drive to NP9:
Going via the A684 and Aysgarth, this took from 13:00 to 13:43 a distance of 22 miles.
From the quarry parking place at SD 9455 7996 (413m ASL) the way goes initially up the tarmac, through a gate at SD 9454 8000, across fields then through a second gate at SD 9475 7979. A path crosses pasture land to connect the two.
From the second gate you can cut across boggy ground but I normally follow a sheep path (indistinct in places) via: SD 9493 7964 and SD 9514 7965, then up to SD 9521 7966. Pass through a gateless gap in the wall at SD 9534 7954 and up steep ground to SD 9539 7951. Next you cross Cow Close Gill beside by the wall at SD 9546 7947, loosing a few metres here. The stream was completely dried up today.
From the Gill crossing, swing right (south) to pick up the meagre path again at SD 9547 7936 and SD 9551 7933. Less than 300m later this wall-path joins the major path coming up from Cray, at SD 9565 7921. The Cray path now takes you all the way to the top, via SD 9609 7885 but what was once fine gravel is now mostly mud. There are steps up the steep ground.
There was yet another panic as I left the car. The information on the GPS screen was just about invisible. Had water got into it? Reliant on the machine for a dark descent with possible fog added, I thought of what could be done to get round this latest twist. Use my phone’s small scale map and built-in GPS or take the satnav out of the car? After some fiddling I was able to restore the picture. Somehow the contrast had got switched almost to zero.
A large herd of sheep eyed me suspiciously from a high point above the initial path and at that point, I was glad I hadn't brought the dog. I met a few people on the Cray path, some of whom were still going up the hill.
BUCKDEN PIKE, G/NP-009, 702m, 6pts, 14:34 to 17:45. 4C initially, 0C and dropping after sunset. 1 mph wind. Intermittent low-cloud. 2 or 3 cm lying snow with grass showing through. Nil EE mobile coverage. LOC: IO84XE, WAB: SD97. Trig Point TP-1744.
14.046.5 CW – 21 QSO's:
After climbing the ladder stile, the station was set up east of the wall near some raised areas that came in handy to make the antenna feed point a little higher. Any advantage, however small can be significant for 160m especially but that would come later. Until then, as I explained to one or two interested walkers, the target was wider Europe and North America but scanning the 20m band revealed a problem.
The preferred frequency of 14.052.6, alerted for me by Roy G4SSH following the phone call from NP15, was occupied. There seemed to be a DX-fest going on and they were using split working with a 10kHz spread. Minor discrepancies in frequency usually mean the chasers will find you but this was too great a deviation.
As expected and I brought out the phone just to check, there was not even a semblance of mobile signal. There was only one way to proceed which was to close the 20m dipole links and call G4SSH who I knew would be listening on 3.557 CW. Roy came immediately back to take the new 20m CW frequency from me and we also exchanged 599 reports for good measure. Without this facility 20m would likely have been a failure.
With the links re-opened and 30 Watts selected, OK1DVM came back to the first CQ and it was 599 both ways. After this early indicator, the band proved to be in great shape, evidenced by mostly further 599 incoming signals from: EA2DT; DJ5AV; SP9AMH; AC1Z; DL2HWI; HB9AGH; VE2JCW; HA7WA; N4EX; HB9BIN/P (S2S); EA1AER; S52CU; K4MF; OZ6ABZ; EA4ESP; HA5TI; G4SSH; N4DA; VE1WT and OE3VBU.
The session took just over 30 minutes. Received reports were mainly in the range 549 to 599 with a 339 from VE2JCW and a 229 from Roy G4SSH, who chanced his luck on the strength of a 105km near line-of-sight path. The QRP station SP9AMH was the strongest I’ve ever heard him at a genuine 579. Our well known friend and SOTA Activator Juerg HB9BIN/P was coming through strongly from the summit of HB/SO-013. A success and certainly worth inserting 20m into the schedule.
14.282 SSB – 13 QSO's:
If 20m CW was busy, the same applied to SSB. The advertised spot of 14.265 was in use and I had to go up to 14.282 before finding a clear channel. This necessitated a brief change of the antenna links followed by another call to G4SSH on 3.557 CW. A run up and down the antenna was welcome as I was rapidly ‘loosing’ my feet. I sent the new frequency to Roy then re-tuned the rig and re-opened the 20m links. As I was doing so, I heard the dreaded ‘Is this frequency in use?’ I covered the ground back to the microphone in record time, ‘Yes (I lied) - thanks for asking.’ It has happened so many times in the past that I’ve gone through the process of re-jigging a frequency only to have it ‘nicked’ before I could use it. Not this time!
I was pleasantly surprised when the second CQ brought in a Jerusalem station in the form of 4X1ZZ. Howard was a very good operator, extremely polite with a big 59 signal. I got a 45 RS from him and he thanked me for the SOTA. I know I hang out on the lower bands a lot so it’s hardly surprising that it’s a long time since I worked Israel but this was a nice start to the SSB session.
Next in was Ed DD5LP (AKA G8GLM) in Munich. I was annoyed with myself for forgetting his name but we had a brief chat about his visit to the UK and specifically Scarborough last year.
The remainder of the SSB session comprised: SP9AMH; OK1DVM; HB9LAN; HB9RDD (Christian); CT1UV; OH3GZ; CT2GSN; A62A (Emirates Amateur Radio Club); SA4BLM (Lars); IW4EII and DK2DL. Signal reports were mostly good despite my dropping the power from 30 to around 10 Watts (1 Watt drive from FT817ND into amplifier). I got a 59 plus 10dB from Miro OK1DVM. The others gave me between 55 and 57 with a couple of 59’s. Everybody was 59 to me except, as you'd expect SP9AMH/ QRP - 55. This session took 17 minutes.
3.557 CW - 11 QSO's:
Starting at 16:07 the following stations were worked with about 10 Watts: G4OOE; G0BPU; G0VOF; DL1FU; G4OBK; EI2CL; G3TJE; G4RQJ; LA1ENA and G0HIO. Outgoing reports were mostly 599 but there was QSB. Reports on my signals were chiefly 579 with a 589 from G0VOF Mark and a 449 from Nick G4OOE 108km away in Scarborough. Rob G4RQJ and I exchanged with 599 both ways.
G4SSH is included in the 11 QSO's above but Roy was actually worked on 3.557 CW at 15:05 before the 20m sessions. With 3.724 busy, it was prudent to look for an SSB channel and relay that to Roy before the QSY away from 3.557. By now I had the summit to myself.
3.721 SSB - 21 QSO's:
Continuing with about 10 Watts but increasing to 50 Watts for Lothar DL3HXX and subsequent, I logged the following stations: G0VOF; G3XXR; G0RQL; M0JLA; G8VNW; G4IPB; EI9GLB; G6TUH; G1BLJ.
For half an hour a helicopter was hovering around over the northern end of the mountain. Two or three times it got close enough to penetrate the fog with its nav lights. Despite this noisy distraction we continued on with: M0MDA; DL3HXX; GM4WHA; G0TDM; OH6JYH; G4FGJ; MM0XPZ; M6HMK; M0FVH; G4OOE; M0JEA; G4OBK (Phil mentioned his high VSWR so we didn't exchange reports - he was 58 to me) and finally G4SSH.
I gave most people 59 as I thought they deserved it but there were a handful of 57's and 58's. Incoming reports were in the range 57 to 59 except for a 32 from OH6JYH and a 33 from M0FVH. Roy G4SSH gave me 55 and Paul G4IPB gave out a 59 plus 10dB from Middleton-in-Teesdale (QTH 1,000ft ASL).
1.832 CW - 8 QSO’s from 17:00:
So here we were again. At 5pm sunset and the star attraction - Top Band. Adjusting the coils for resonance took a while because they were higher above ground than usual. I didn't mind the exercise. In fact it wasn't enough so I ran up and down to try and get my feet back. My hands were suffering too. It was my own fault; the gloves were still in a pocket.
With the maximum power of 50 Watts I called G4SSH in the hope of good conditions to Scarborough. Roy came back with a 449 report and 559 went east. Next into the log was G0HIO who had actually called me first. Mike was rewarded with a 589/ 569 exchange. After these I worked: G0VOF Mark (599/ 579); G4OOE Nick (339 x 2); OH9XX Marko (599/ 449); G4RQJ Rob (579/ 519); G4OBK Phil (599/ 569); and HB9BXE Hans (569/ 449). Further CQ's went unanswered but this session was more than satisfactory.
1.843 SSB - 5 QSO’s from 17:15:
Sticking with the 50 Watts, I logged G8VNW Nick just down the valley in Threshfield (59 x 2); G4IPB Paul in Teesdale (56 x 2); Mark G0VOF (59/ 57); GM4WHA Geoff in Annan (33/ 47) and finally G4OBK Phil in Pickering (58/ 55).
By far the most difficult QSO was the one with Geoff but weak as he was, we managed to exchange reports as he was hearing me better than I could hear him. Though the all important reports had gone over, just to confuse the issue the rig cut out abruptly before we had completed the QSO. Scrabbling in the side pocket of the rucksack and pulling out a small 2.2 Ah reserve battery enabled the ribbons to be properly tied with Geoff before Phil called in. My son Phil G0UUU made a good recording of this session via an internet receiver in Cheshire.
Phil G4OBK was about 51 to 52 with me when he called. He gave me 55. After a brief QRX I heard clicking noises on the band. This was Phil's FT5000 with built in ATU doing its stuff. When he came back he was a rock steady 58 on the meter, evidence of the expected mode of propagation which was mostly line-of-sight ground wave. Pickering is about 85 km distant.
It was a real pleasure to be able to talk to Phil again and welcome him back to Top Band. With his ATU tuning an aerial for the 60m band he had made it easily. Let's hope there are plenty more 160m QSO's with Phil in the future but though he still has improvements in the pipeline at his new QTH, sadly the days of using Phil as a 160m propagation guide are probably behind us. By now the time was 17:26 and it was fully dark.
After packing up, I climbed the stile and had a last look at the trig and summit cairn, starting the descent at 17:45. So often after all the work to get there followed by a long stay and much enjoyment on the radio, I form a strange bond with the summit and don't want to leave.
Even on relatively benign mountains like Buckden Pike, extra vigilance is required when moving at night. In this case there were several sets of steep, rough steps to negotiate by the light of a headlamp. The GPS, with it's contingency route created on the way up, gave reassurance but it was a relief to get down to easier ground and out of the clag. Passing flocks of curious sheep on the way, it took 33 minutes to get back to the car, arriving at 18:18.
Over many years of SOTA I have come to the conclusion that there is no greater relief than reaching the car and removing your walking boots after the final summit of the day. Oh joy! It’s a mental release also.
The drive home of 77 miles (18:30 to 20:20) was via the A684, Thirsk and Sutton Bank.