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G4YSS: GM/ES-001 Ben Macdui,10-05-18


G4YSS: GM/ES-001, 10-05-18

Activation of BEN MACDUI (Ben Macdhui) - GM/ES-001 - 10 points
GM4YSS/P and SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P
QRO on 80m-40m & 20m. QRP on 2m-FM
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS as ‘z’)

This activation was part of our May 2018 seven-day self-drive holiday based at Shearing’s Highland Hotel, Strathpeffer. Ben Macdui was summit 1 of 2. (For 2 of 2 - Ben Wyvis link, see foot of report)

FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier (80 thru’ 10 with 160m capability)
Link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end-sticks
One 5 Ah Li-Po battery
J-Pole for 2m FM

IC-E90, 4-band, 5W VHF H/H (not used due to battery failure)
UV-3R 2m/ 70cm 2W Handie carried in top pocket
QRO pack: 10kg (22 pounds) including food, Primaloft jacket, 1.25 litre drinks

The base for this activation was Shearing’s Strathpeffer Hotel and part of a 7-night stay from 7th to 14th of May 2018.

After record high temperatures immediately before the holiday and on the bank holiday Monday when we drove up the 392 miles from Scarborough, two days were wasted waiting for a half decent mountain weather forecast. A secondary problem was the state of the ionosphere. Despite listening daily, almost nothing was heard on 80m and 40m from the mobile setup and there was precious little on 20m either.

The prospect of dead bands and major wind-chill didn’t fill me with confidence but the MWIS forecast for Thursday the 10th was more optimistic. Lighter winds were a feature along with the possibility of clearing summits and patches of sunshine. Nonetheless snow or hail showers were forecast along with summit temperatures either side of freezing. Even more disquieting was a statement at the foot of the forecast, ‘The approaches to some Munros remain blocked by large areas of hard snow.’

I had been in contact with local amateurs Ray GM3PIL and Andy GM0UDL on 145.575-FM over previous days and they were primed and ready to give me two of the four contacts needed for qualification. They had also put the word around on 2m. If the HF bands were flat on the day, I would need every QSO I could get however it came. As always in my case, these worries affected sleep.

There was to be nothing last minute about this activation. The holiday was booked months ago specifically with a view to Ben Macdui as the target. I originally wanted September but other holidays forced an earlier booking, despite me thinking that the second week in May might be too early to go so high. The Cairngorms hold snow longer than most mountain regions and I’d heard that the 2017-18 skiing had been particularly good there.

Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in the British Isles but it has one advantage over Ben Nevis. You can start walking from 2,000 feet; actually a little higher than that, the car park is at 630m ASL. It’s still a long way. Over five miles of ascent and some re-ascent too but there’s a good path and it’s mostly well graded.

Finally, there’s also a nostalgia factor here. The last and only time I’d been up Ben Macdui was 25 years ago on 3rd and 4th of August 1993 when my two sons and I had climbed it and camped up there in the rain. Carrying over 40 pounds and the lads with 16 pounds each aged 11 and 13, we were stretched. The 11 year old’s waterproofs leaked and he would have become hypothermic had we not acted quickly to get him into the tent and sleeping bag. All this meant that there had been no time to see the Anson WW2 wreck site and its memorial just off the summit. I was hoping to rectify that this time.

As in the past prior to major SOTA’s, the normal hotel breakfast was about three hours too late. The chosen start point was 1 hour and 20 minutes away by car and with the prospect of a long walk of up to three hours, a really early start would be mandatory. Despite my usual pre-SOTA anxiety, I did at least manage some sleep the night before.

The night porter brought me cereal, tea and toast at 04:30 and I set off from the hotel at 5am heading for the A9 south. Who should I find on 145.575-FM but Ray GM3PIL (QTH near Nairn) who had risen early to keep me company along the way. This certainly was dedication to the cause. Yes, five-o-clock in the morning! Ray said he got up early most days but this was impressive. This was a good distraction from SOTA worries but I lost him as predicted on the Brae, just south of Inverness.

At the end of a 60-mile drive, I pulled up in the deserted Cairngorm Ski Area car park at 06:15. The temperature there at 630m ASL was 4C. The clouds looked a bit heavy and it was drizzling on and off. No encouragement from that quarter obviously. After downing a litre of cold water (I hate this process), I got walking at 06:39 into a cool wind under overcast.

Near to where I parked at NH 98959 06000, there was a donation box into which I inserted a few quid, thinking it might buy me some good weather and good luck. Some hopes of that; it began drizzling again but at least there was no cloud down on the surrounding mountains. I don’t usually bother with waterproofs if I can help it and eventually the sun came out, for a while at least.

The path goes down under the chair lift wires and is obvious via NH 9820 0468 and NH 9776 0368 where it veers left slightly. It then climbs more steeply via NH 9769 0289 where I hid some orange pop under a large rock for the return, forgetting about retrieving it on the way back. At NH 9783 0157 you feel as if you’re getting somewhere but a little later the path loses altitude to pass Lochan Budhie (Britain’s highest lake) at NH 9825 0097, missing it by 100m.

After crossing a substantial area of deep snow, I reached the spot at NH 98564 00010 where we camped 25 years before. Thought it was partly covered by snow, I recognized it immediately, stopping for 10 minutes to reminisce and take photographs. In fact it is an obvious place to pitch; the last substantial grass before the final climb up to the summit.

There’d been some sunshine to enjoy on the way but now I was in low-cloud and light drizzle. In fact the drizzle was turning to snow and the wind was freezing one side of my face. I almost never wear a coat over my fleece and base layer on ascent so there’s no hood available. The solution is a gloved hand over the affected area and to keep moving as fast as muscles will allow. By now the temperature was slightly below zero degrees C and the wind was brisk. Here I broke out the 2W handheld to call Ray GM3PIL. There was no reply and I would later find out why.

After passing the 1993 tent position, I had an extensive snow-slope to climb to NN 9873 9976. At NN 9897 9920 the path dog-legs right for its final approach to the summit, today hidden in mist until the last minute.

I arrived at the deserted summit by 08:58, after 2 hours and 9 minutes of walking, discounting the 10-minute stop. It was cold, foggy, windy and minus 1C but to cap it all a snow blizzard started during the summit photo session. Still, I made a point of marking the trig point (NN 98904 98925) before diving for a rock shelter at NN 9892 9893, a few yards east of the big summit cairn. Here I cowered under the umbrella for half an hour until things improved but sufficient snow had fallen to completely change the appearance of the summit area.

The ascent had been quicker than I’d hoped but the time advantage was now mostly lost waiting for the snow to stop. The rucksack quickly turned white and I didn’t want to get the radio kit wet. All I could do was to try and set up for VHF, which is when I found that the IC-E90 was as dead as a Dodo.

BEN MACDUI - GM/ES-001: 1,309m (4,295ft), 10 pts, 08:58 to 14:01. Minus 1C at first, 4C at the end. 20mph wind gradually reducing to 10mph. Intermittent low-cloud and snow showers until midday. Patches of sunshine. Good Vodafone coverage. LOC: IO87DB, WAB: NN99, Trig: TP-1286.

I put advanced alerts on for this summit the evening before. The bands chosen were 2m; 80m; 40m but in case conditions remained very poor, the reserves were 60m and 20m.

At least there was a phone signal; one way to get a spot and Roy G4SSH would be waiting on 3.557-CW. There was no chance of self spotting as my smart phone (on EE) had packed up a few days before. In its place was my ‘rucksack emergency phone,’ an old Nokia 8310 of early noughties vintage. It may be old but it’s small and reliable with a battery that lasts a week and being on Vodafone; so much better than EE in many parts of Scotland.

Setting Up:
After the snow stopped, I set up the vertical half-wave for 2m. It wasn’t until after the VHF session that the dipole was set up with the mast in the shelter. There was precious little vegetation to take the end sticks; just tiny patches which were mostly frozen. In fact the job was easier and therefore quicker than envisaged.

145.575 FM - 3 QSO’s:
As stated, the IC-E90, or more particularly as it turned out, its battery was non-functional. Any hopes I had of saving the main battery exclusively for HF went out of the window, as did plan-B if the FT817 should fail though I did still have a last ditch reserve in the form of a tiny UV-3R handie, carried up in a top pocket.

With HF expected to be in the dreadful state it had been for days (if not weeks) I was hoping for an early qualification of the summit on 2m-FM. Using 5 Watts from the FT817ND to the J-Pole, this was my chance to try for GM3PIL; Ray at Piper Hill which is located south of Nairn.

In fact it was Andy GM0UDL who answered from the Black Isle with 59 plus reports. Sadly Ray wasn’t hearing a peep from me so Andy’s XLY Brenda MM3UDL kindly put down her lawn strimmer to come up and add a second QSO.

At this point Ray switched from his vertical to two phased horizontal beams. In response, I uprooted my J-Pole and held it horizontal to no avail. Ray was using significant power but he was weak and distorted to me. Maybe his signal was travelling along two different paths; there was certainly something in the way.

The third and final QSO on 2m came from MM3ZRF in Alness. Bob had interrupted his wood chopping to work me. Maybe Ray had phoned or called him? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

3.557 CW - 9 QSO’s:
With headphones on and expecting little after monitoring 80m for the three days prior and hearing almost nothing, I was shocked when G4SSH came back first call. With the preconception that any signal heard would be minuscule, I had to turn the AF gain down fast! Roy was a full 59 on the meter; surprising for mid morning and as time passed, I quickly realised that my plans for a 5MHz reserve would not be needed.

After my eardrums had recovered, stations logged on 80m CW after G4SSH were: GM3PIL; G4OBK; G0HIO; GI4ONL; GW4VPX; GM0UDL G4WSB and M0KKF. Yes, Ray got his QSO with 599 both ways. What price 2m now?

Apart from Allan GW4VPX (579/ 339), no outgoing report was less than 599. OK, I might have been a bit over enthusiastic at times because there was deep QSB about but with such a low noise level everybody seemed good to me. Coming back in were a 559’s, 579’s, a 339 from Mike G0HIO and a 449 from Bill G4WSB. Power was 30W. What an unexpectedly brilliant start!

3.760 SSB - 10 QSO’s:
A strong signal from keen WAB op Peter in Peterhead MM3PDM opened this session for me. Next in was Phil G7AFM, ‘John – please repeat my report several times.’ Phil gave me 44 but he got his 57 OK.

This was great. I was on the WAB channel and could offer the SOTA, a trig point and a rare portable WAB square too. Peter kindly handed me the frequency and there followed: GM4NFI (59+); MI0RTY 59/ 57; G6MZX 59/ 47; G4IAR 59/ 55; G0VWP 2 x 52; G0RQL 59/ 37; MM0XPZ 59/ 57 and finally, in the ‘back of the box’ but with great ears as always, was M3FEH 51/ 33.

The 30 Watt power level helped but I was surprised how good 80m was holding up at 10 hours UTC. The session took from 09:42 to 09:58z and after a computer glitch which resulted in him phoning Phil G4OBK to spot me on CW, Roy posted the QSY to SSB.

7.033 CW – 25 QSO’s:
What a great idea to try 40m-CW; the top scoring session by far: Logged were: G0RPA; OH9XX; PA1BR; DL4KCA; G4CMQ; DL1FU; G4WSB; EA2LU; HB9DBM; G4FGJ; DL2EF; DL2HWI; IK2LEY (looks like Ilkley); ON4FI; M0IML; G4SSH; DL3HXX; OM1AX; PA0B; G1OCN; DL3HAH; G4RGV; PA3EPA; F5LKW and DL2EPM.

Almost all were coming in between 579 and 599 except OM1AX at 519 and F5LKW at 559. Most incoming RST’s were in the 559-579 range but I did get a handful of 449’s, 339’s and one 229 from Frid DL1FU. Power was 30 Watts again and the time for 40m-SSB was 40 minutes.

7.165 SSB – 11 QSO’s:
7.160 must have been busy with WAB traffic, long overdue after days of poor conditions, so I went 5kHz up to be found by the following stations: G3RDQ; PA1INA; HB9AGH; G0RQL; G4RGV; G0FEX; G4WSB; M3FEH; G1OCN; EA2CKX and G0SNB.

Some of these ops were after the rarely activated WAB square (eg G1OCN Dave) and trig pillar and others just the SOTA (eg Ambrosi HB9AGH). Good to know that there some were chasing all three entities. The close relationship between WAB and SOTA is a good thing in my opinion.

For this and most other sessions, the FT817ND was set to 2.5 Watts, which means about 30 Watts to the dipole. It’s a good compromise between signal and battery longevity. I must have been taking my time. This session spanned half an hour. Time for lunch.

14.052.6 CW – 12 QSO’s:
With good Vodafone coverage it was easy to phone Roy for a spot. The latter worked pretty well, adding another dozen QSO’s to the log as follows: SP9AMH; OK2PDT; F6FTB; N1GB (George was the only DX of the day); F6EWB; DL2DBU; IK5IIS; OH3GZ; DL2DXA; OH3OJ; R1AR and S52CU.

At this point, after more than three and a half hours of intermittent use, including the 2m-FM session, the 5Ah Li-Po waved the white flag and the rig cut off (a design feature using series diodes in the FT817’s external supply line). I had no spare battery. That was sacrificed in favour of a black umbrella – a good decision on this day.

Outgoing reports were all 579 to 599. Coming back were a lot of 559’s with one 599 and a 539 from Mirko. Power for the final time was 30 Watts but the 10 Amp circuit breaker covering the linear, was pulled at this point. No more QRO!

14.285 SSB – 1 QSO:
Just OH3GZ on here but I could only muster 5 Watts. Being maybe a little selfish about it, I wasn’t sorry when there was no response to further CQ’s. The time to retreat was fast approaching and with over five miles to walk, some of it over snow, I needed to tackle the packing up ASAP.

Questions questions:
During the 40m-CW session a young couple had arrived and showed great interest in the station, particularly the girl called Dee, as I later found out. She didn’t have much background to fall back on and asked loads of questions. I tried to explain the best I could.

Distance is often a favourite topic in these situations and Dee seemed very impressed at what a modest station could achieve. She asked, ‘Is there anything we can look up?’ I wrote down the SOTA website and Reflector particulars and promised them a photo in my report. (See below).

When I walked off at just turned 2pm, picking up a few stones for later examination, there were only two other people remaining in one of the shelters. There was no low-cloud but it was mostly overcast with a cold wind from the Lairig Ghru hitting me in the left ear.

I couldn’t help but pause again at the camping place from 1993 but in the rush to get back for the scheduled hotel evening meal, I completely forgot to visit the Anson aircraft the wreckage of which lies, along with a memorial, about 400m WNW of the trig. I now regret this. Was this a subconscious excuse to go back, I wonder?

Also forgetting about the hidden bottle of pop on the way, I made it to the car by 15:53. The 56-mile drive back to Strathpeffer took from 16:00 to 17:15. Four fewer miles were clocked than on the way down due to the routes chosen by the satnav. It took me south and beyond Aviemore on the way but through it on the way back.

ASCENT & DISTANCE (Start point at 635m ASL!):
Ascent 780m (2,559ft) / Distance 17 km (10.6 miles)

05:00: Left Tarbet Hotel
06:15: Arrived Cairngorm Ski area car park, 60-miles
06:39: Walk started
08:58 to 14:01: BEN MACDUI - GM/ES-001
15:53: Returned to Car
16:00 to 17:15: Drive back to Strathpeffer, 56-miles

Walking times:
Ascent: 2hr-19 min gross (2hr-9 min net)
Descent: 1hr-52 min gross (1hr-48min net)
Summit time: 5hr-3 min
Time Car to Car: 9hr-14 min

3 on 2m-FM
9 on 80m-CW
10 on 80m-SSB
25 on 40m-CW
11 on 40m-SSB
12 on 20m-CW
1 on 20m-SSB

Battery Utilisation:
FT817ND: HF QRO & 2m-FM QRP: 5 Ah Li-Po fully depleted
IC-E90: (Not used due to fault)

Though it’s a long way to walk, the route was easy to follow, direct and mostly well graded. The best thing about this summit is its artificial start point at 635m ASL. This saves a massive amount of time and energy.

Despite a minus 1C temperature, a cold wind, low-cloud and a moderate snow shower at the beginning of the activation, the weather was mostly acceptable and we got some sunshine.

There are several rock shelters arranged around the summit so taking one of them didn’t cause any inconvenience to other walkers. The ‘Areas of hard snow,’ referred to in the MWIS mountain forecast turned out to be non-hazardous despite being extensive with some on an inclined plane covering the path. There was always plenty of grip.

Band conditions:
After days of rubbish HF band conditions with hardly any signals, I was extremely fortunate to enjoy a one-day improvement. I didn’t take the Top Band coils and I doubt if any 160m QSO’s would have resulted from this summit if I had.

Nineteen stations were worked on here between 10am and 11am local time (UTC+1) It seemed like a significant achievement after days of monitoring an empty daytime WAB frequency with a mobile whip. However, 80m has come into use for inter-G contacts again due to the stage in the sunspot cycle. We are probably near the bottom of it by now. Almost all stations worked on 80 were recognized SOTA or WAB stations. None were located outside the UK.

This band was alerted as a backup in anticipation of poor conditions on one or both of its near neighbours. 60m was not required after 80m and 40m did a great job.

From the thirty-six stations worked on here, the large majority of ops were grateful SOTA and WAB chasers. Despite some QSB, reports were good. The band was properly open and covering Western Europe with a few ‘G’ stations getting in too.

After a spot by Roy G4SSH, success was to be had on this band in the form of a baker’s dozen of stations logged with one N1GB, outside Europe. I could imagine QRP op Maruisz SP9AMH along with a few others, waiting for me to turn up on here after some likely frustration on 40m. Luckily there was time and just sufficient battery power to spare for the CW session. Calling CQ on SSB with just 5 Watts would make it much harder for chasers and only one was worked.

There seemed to be no path through to our GM friend Ray GM3PIL at Piper Hill near Nairn. This was despite trying a few things like uprooting the vertical at my end and holding it horizontal for Ray to try his beam. His signal seemed distorted too. There must be a hill in the way because it was easy to work the other three local stations; Andy & Brenda on the Black Isle and Bob in Alness. No matter; Ray got his QSO OK on 80m-CW.

4m-FM and the IC-E90:
This band (FM only) was alerted but with the IC-E90 non-functional, the promise couldn’t be fulfilled. I suspect that the rig’s battery, which must be detached from the radio if it is not to slowly discharge, got shorted out. I carry a home-brew 12V power adapter for this rig. It has metal bits on it that could possibly have contacted the battery terminals. Maybe there is a fuse or weak link inside the battery that is now open circuit. Investigation is required.

In the circumstances, the QSO count of 71 was very good but compared to some other activators, I come out slow. It took five hours to log that number and in the absence of good spotting, it would have taken much longer. There were no S2S contacts. All in all, this ended as a great expedition with lots of nostalgia thrown in.

To ALL STATIONS worked. Every QSO in the log is appreciated. To G4SSH for his on-air and telephone spotting service and to the other spotters G4OBK and SP9AMH. Thanks to Ray GM3PIL for putting the word around locally on 2m.

73, John G4YSS
Using GM4YSS/P (on 5Mhz) & Scarborough Special Events Group Club call GS0OOO/P.

For Ben Wyvis - GM/NS-005 on 12-05-18, report see: G4YSS: GM/NS-005 Ben Wyvis,12-05-18

Photos 10-05-18: 4-7-8-11-24-26-52-62-65-69-72-82-93-97-100-142-146-157-165-185-199
Photos 03-08-1993: 23-24-25-27-29

Above: Cairngorm Ski Area Car Park (635m ASL)

Above: Cairngorm Ski Area Car Park. Choose your own fee.

Above: First part of the path to Ben Macdui

Above: First part of the path looking back

Above: Sun peeping over a snow field

Above: Two thirds of the way to Ben Macdui. Lochan Buidhe (Yellow Lake). Britain’s highest lake.

Above: GM/ES-001 Ben Macdui. Summit in sight

Above: Trig Point TP-1286 - Ben Macdui

Above: GM/ES-001 Ben Macdui. Waiting out the snow shower

Above: Ben Macdui. Waiting out the snow shower

Above: GM/ES-001. Assembling the 2m-FM vertical

Above: GM/ES-001 shelter QTH. Assembling the HF mast

Above: GM/ES-001 activation on 80-40-20m

Above: GM/ES-001 QTH looking untidy already!

Above: Ben Macdui’s geolocator (or did I make that term up?)

Above: Ben Macdui’s summit area 10-05-18

Above: 25 years ago. Andy and Phil - a young G0UUU. Ben Macdui’s summit 03-08-1993

Above: 25 years ago. G4YSS at Ben Macdui’s summit 03-08-1993

Above: Dee and Ian; the couple who expressed interest in the station. With Yorkshire in common, we got on well.

Above: GM/ES-001. Early afternoon sunshine

Above: Looking at mountains to the south from the trig.

Above: Site of our 1993 camp at the bottom of the hill 10-05-2018

Above: Site of our 1993 camp at the bottom of the hill 03-08-1993

Above: Our 1993 Ben Macdui camp 03 to 04-08-1993. Note the same HF mast as the one used today though the paint scheme has changed. A CW QSO with G4ZGP in Scarborough on 80m.

Above: Phil and Andy on the shore of Lochan Buidhe on 04-08-1993

Above: Lochan Buidhe (right of photo) 10-05-18

Above: Path home and Lairig Ghru (left)

G4YSS: GM/NS-005 Ben Wyvis,12-05-18

Thank you John for yet another wonderful report made especially interesting by your reminiscing of your 1993 visit with your sons…time flies. Thank you for the cw contact…looking forward to the next one.

73 Allan GW4VPX


Thanks for the excellent report as always!
73 Mark M0NOM