G4YSS: Activation of CREAG MHOR - GM/NS-065, 10-05-17
Draft-1. Subject to minor changes & corrections
CREAG MHOR - GM/NS-065 - 4 points
With WAB Squares NC62 & NC72 & Trig Point TP-2561
GM4YSS/P and SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P
HF - QRO on 40m-20m-80m-160m & 2m-FM QRP
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS as 'z')
First SOTA in the May 2017 series of three: GM/NS-065 Creag Mhor; GM/NS-038 Cranstackie and GM/NS-107 Ben Horn, based at the Dornoch Hotel.
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Link dipole for 80m thru’ 20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end-sticks
home-brew tunable loading coils for 160m
5 Ah Li-Po battery
J-Pole for 2m FM on 1m ‘pink’ carbon stick
2.2 Ah Li-Po battery (used for 160/ 80m & WAB NC72)
Baofeng; 2W VHFM/ UHFM, 130gm H/H (used as 160m back channel only)
QRO pack: 10kg (22 pounds) including food, Primaloft jacket & 1.25 litre drinks.
This was the first SOTA activation of this year's trip to GM/NS and the main reason for going there. We booked a 7-night holiday at the Dornoch Hotel from 8th to 15th of May 2017, at the modest cost of 441 GBP. This was a present from my XYL and our 6th visit to Dornoch. Along with Gairloch, the hotel has been sold by Shearings and is currently in the hands of a holding company called Bespoke. Strathpeffer may follow soon.
The last time we were at Dornoch, in May 2015, it was to activate Ben Armine GM/NS-069. That was a big multi-band activation and due to hotel meal times, it left no time to add NS65 Creag Mhor, although I did put on rare WAB square NC72 on the walk back.
The activation was made possible with permission from the Badanloch and Loch Choire estate managers to drive down the track that runs across two estates from the B871, saving a walking or cycling distance of 2 x 8.4 miles. This permission will likely not be granted in the autumn due to deer stalking operations. I would still have to walk nearly 20km but this was the only way I was going to take this on. A bike could be used but a bike rack cannot be fitted to a Citroen C4 Picasso.
After a 409-mile drive from Scarborough on Monday the 8th of May, a rest day was required. The 9th was sunny from dawn until dusk, therefore not much good for hill walking anyway. That evening’s NW Highlands Mountain forecast was for 0 to 4C, 10mph wind and a risk of drizzle. Sutherland should however, be a bit warmer.
I arranged for a basic breakfast at 06:00, supplied by the night porter and was away for 06:20. The drive north via the A9, cutting through Glen Loth (a slow & narrow road) to join the A897 and later the B871, took a total of an hour and 10 minutes to the start of the private dirt road which leaves the B871 at NC 8014 3301. From there it took a further twenty minutes of slow progress to reach the roadside quarry; the landowner’s indicated parking spot, at NC 6853 3103. This is 8.4 miles down the track in a westerly direction and close to the start of the stalker path that I would be using.
Just before arriving, I met the Loch Choire estate manager and his wife in a 4WD. They recognized the car. Neil & Sue were on their way to check how many lambs had been born overnight and whether any had been attacked by a fox which had been seen in the area.
We had a chat for ten minutes during which ticks were mentioned. ‘They’re everywhere.’ ‘Use close fitting clothing and inspect carefully when you get back.’ ‘Avoid bracken and it’s best not to sit down in grass.’ The latter is mostly what SOTA is about so we must rate as easy targets. I was told of three local people with Lyme Disease, who they knew of. If I’ve had one tick in the past I must have had a score or more.
I set off walking at 08:25 in a 7-degree C cool breeze and overcast but by then the clag had almost lifted from the higher tops.
The well-defined stalker path starts at NC 6863 3101 heading SE and later south. The surface is mainly grass with evidence of quad bike or Land Rover activity. It climbs easily via NC 6959 2957 and NC 7006 2877 after which point it starts to lose height but that is regained by NC 7022 2781. At NC 7018 2766 there is a junction where a track goes off to the right. The latter climbs gently though the gap between NS69 Ben Armine and today's target, NS65 Creag Mhor.
Just before the path starts to lose height again at NC 6916 2602, I elected to leave it to the left and make my way first SW and downhill over broken ground to the 462m col, then SE and up to the summit trig. The walking here is quite rough at first but as the ground begins to rise, the vegetation becomes shorter and the surface more even.
While climbing Ben Armine in 2015, I spotted what I thought might be vague quad track at NC 6916 2619, which looking back, appeared to come from the slopes of NS65. Today I failed to find anything easier than walking along the peaty gullies that meander around unpredictably. You could only do this in dry conditions of course and judging by the many fresh footprints (one of them a recent size nine boot print) deer and other small mammals were also using these to get around.
The gently rounded summit consists of short grass and alpine plants. The trig point is surrounded by a low wall made from large rocks. I arrived there at 10:34 after 2-hours and 9 minutes of walking. The 2.5km, from the path to the summit, took 45 minutes. When placed on top of the trig, the GPS gave a reading of NC 69846 24005 at 714 metres ASL.
This trig has its screw cap missing, making it ideal for supporting a mast. A few coins were dropped down the hole, though I don’t really know why. There is just sufficient soil to take the dipole end sticks if you chose your spot. A grass shelf near the wall provides a seat but I elected to take out a short-term loan on one of the wall’s flat rocks, replacing it before leaving.
CREAG MHOR - GM/NS-065, 713m, 4 pts, 10:34 to 14:53. 6C - later 10C. 10 mph wind - decreasing. Overcast with occasional drizzle and one short burst of sunshine. No lying snow, no midges and almost no low-cloud. Reliable EE phone coverage at the summit and most parts of the route. LOC: IO78VE, WAB: NC62, Trig: TP-2561
Since this SOTA is in a rare WAB square (NC62), I pre-alerted a start on the WAB frequency of 7.160-SSB. It took a couple of minutes to call spotter Roy G4SSH on 7.033, just to let him know I’d arrived. He gave me 339 and was followed immediately by Aage LA1ENO with a 579/ 599 exchange. I would be back here later.
7.160 SSB (WAB frequency) - 30 QSO's:
After setting the power to 30 Watts, I broke in on 7.160. Judging by the conversations heard, conditions on 40m seemed reasonable and I logged Geoff G7BGA. In actual fact many of the stations on the frequency could not hear one another, which would have made traditional WAB controlling difficult to say the least. Geoff therefore handed it over to me to run and this turned out to be a good decision.
In the log: G7BGA; G0UUU/M - Phil; G0FEX; G0GWY; G4SQA; G4ZRP; G0VWP; G0RQL; EA2CKX; G4AFI; PE1PIC; M0BKV; PA0INA; M0WBG; G0RPA; MI0RTY; DL/HB9FVF/P S2S on DM/SX-057; GM3PIL; MU0GSY; MW0JLA/P Rod S2S on GW/SW-016; G3RMD; SP6BBE; GB2CPM; G4RGV; G0UOO; DB8BG; MM3PDM/P; G4NEY; 2E1MPC/M and M3FEH.
Reports were mainly in the range 55 to 59 with a few more difficult QSO’s interspersed. The session took 48 minutes as I was often giving out the activation details, namely the SOTA reference, the WAB square and the trig point number.
7.033 CW - 15 QSO's:
Scarborough station, Roy G4SSH and Aage LA1ENO were already in the log from earlier. There followed: HB9AGH; SP9AMH; G3VXJ; EA2LU; F6EAZ; GM0GAV; G4RGV; M0BKV; HB9AGO/P S2S on HB/SG-064; G4FGJ; EI5EM/P (QRP) and G4ZEB. Signals were again mainly good; most were 579 to me but there was QSB.
14.263 SSB – 1 QSO; 14.052.6 CW – Nil
Despite Sotawatch spots on both the above frequencies by Roy G4SSH, I only managed to work SP9AMH Mariusz in SSB with 55 both ways. Just after this I discovered that I’d worked him with the 20m-dipole links still connected! However, further CQ’ing on both channels with the links open, yielded nothing further and with an eye on the clock, I gave up.
145.575 FM - 3 QSO's:
GM3PIL in Nairn was primed and ready. One call got Ray in the log with 59 plus both ways. I was using the FT817ND to a vertical J-Pole. Also worked were 2M0IBO Jon in Elgin and GM0SFQ John in Alness. With three ops all called John on the frequency, it was all too easy to get confused. Reports were all 59 apart from a 53 coming from Elgin and GM0SFQ who was 56 to me.
I tried Ray on the 2 Watt handheld. He could just about copy me but not all the time. With a bit of luck and a following wind, there was the prospect of more than one 160m QSO next?
1.832 CW - 1 QSO:
Following a text message, the QSY to 160 was spotted by Roy G4SSH. Ray GM3PIL and I exchanged reports but there were no other callers that I could hear. Power was 50W to the loaded dipole using the reserve 2.2Ah battery, the 5Ah having been exhausted on the HF bands.
1.843 SSB – Nearly!
Ray GM3PIL was coming up to me strongly but he couldn’t read me. The same happened with GM0SFQ John in Alness who gave me a 11 report stating that there was not enough to make a QSO. After success on CW, it was disappointing but we have had trouble in the past with 160m SSB not making it in daylight.
So as not to be defeated, I got back onto 2m-FM and offered 80m as an alternative, giving the first familiar frequency that came into my head. ‘See you there.’
3.760 SSB - 3 QSO's:
At 13:17z, using 50 Watts, Ray and I exchanged 57 reports followed by Jon with 58/ 44. At least 80m was working locally. Not thinking anybody else would be about on what I thought was a closed band, I almost switched off. However, one last token CQ was answered by M3FEH Karl in Saltash, Cornwall! The exchange was a tenuous 51/ 43 but I was astonished. However, Karl really was the final caller.
A start was made at 14:53 but it took 35 minutes just to reach the path. There was no use rushing and re-twisting my ankle, which has made good progress since falling on Fountains Fell in March.
The path undulates a little and there is 50m of re-ascent before coming to the point where I wanted to activate the next target; WAB square NC72. At 16:12 and now realising I’d miscalculated regarding the time needed to get back to Dornoch, I stopped to set up the dipole beside the path immediately before the latter passed out of the square and back into NC62 (NC 70025 28822.)
Activation of WAB NC72/P 16:12 to 16:49:
This had been request by Geoff G7BGA that morning on 40m. I said I would do my best to add it but no promises. Geoff replied, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ which is very true. He also told me he’d never worked it before.
I threw the antenna up parallel with the track and not daring to sit down for ticks, knelt down to activate. A bad start was made. 7.160 was in use by, horror of horrors, non WAB’ers! My heart sank. This was going to take longer than I thought but what was this? G4SQA Dave calling Peter MM3PDM/M regardless of the interlopers. Then I realised I hadn’t opened the 40m links and by the time I had, Dave had retreated under a volley of ‘The frequency is in use.’ There was only one thing I could do. Call in and hope the WAB crowd would hear my, ‘Up three to 7.163’ entreaty. Fortunately they did.
Dave G4SQA was the first to come back and work me and he was rapidly followed by Geoff G7BGA; M3FEH; M0DXR; DL3YBR; G4IAR; F4DSK; DJ8CR; EI7CC; IK5CPK; MU0GSY; HB9BQR and G4OBE. The QSO’s took 20 minutes and all told, I was 37 minutes in the area. Power was 50 Watts from the reserve SOTA battery, a 2.2Ah Li-Po.
After getting underway again at 16:49, the walk back to the car from NC72 took a further 28 minutes (the same as 2015) to 17:17.
Just like two years ago, I saw herds of shy deer on the way back to the road. They provided some photos despite the bad light but I was glad a car door separated me from the ticks that they would undoubtedly be carrying.
I’d promised to be back at the hotel by 18:30, a deadline missed by only 10 minutes.
ASCENT & DISTANCE (Start point at 186m ASL):
Walk in: Via stalker paths and col between NS69 & NS65;
Ascent 619m (2,031ft) / Distance 9.7 km (6-miles)
Return: Via same route;
Ascent 103m (338ft) / Distance 9.7 km (6-miles)
Totals: Ascent 722m (2,369ft) / Distance 19.4 km (12-miles)
Driving distance from Dornoch:
2 x 42 miles, including 2 x 8.4 miles on the dirt road from the B871
Left Dornoch Hotel: 06:20
Talk to landowners: 10 min (Neil & Sue)
Walk started: 08:25
GM/NS-065: 10:34 to 14:53
Activation of WAB NC72/P: 16:12 to 16:49 (37 min)
Returned to Car: 17:17
Drive back to Dornoch: 17:20 to 18:40
Ascent: 2hr-9 min (inc 45 min from path to trig)
Descent: 2hr-24 min gross / 1hr-47 min net (inc 35 min from trig to regain path)
Summit time: 4hrs-19 min
Time Car to Car: 8hrs-52 min
Gross time Hotel to Hotel: 12hr-20 min
QSO's (SOTA GM/NS-065):
30 on 40m SSB
14 on 40m CW
1 on 20m CW
3 on 2m FM
1 on 160m CW
3 on 80m SSB
QSO’s (NC72 WAB Square):
13 on 7.160 MHz.
Battery Utilisation: 6.8 Ah (inc WAB NC72/P on the return)
The activation of Creag Mhor was the main objective and mostly the reason why the week at Dornoch was arranged by my XYL. As with the activation of Ben Armine GM/NS-069 in May 2015, obtaining permission to drive the track through the two estates eliminated 17 miles of walking or at best biking. Unsurprisingly, I had the place to myself again.
By 2014 Ben Armine was the final unactivated GM/NS summit that I recognized the name of. The name Creag Mhor was unfamiliar to me and despite it being a next door neighbour of Ben Armine, there was insufficient time to add an activation of it in 2015. The same thing applied in reverse today. This was due to the scope of these two activations; high power HF, multi-band, multi-mode affairs albeit with significantly fewer QSO’s from Creag Mhor.
Coincidentally, the summit was activated the day before we drove north. After being ignored by everybody SOTA since 2002, the twin summits suddenly had two activations added to their history.
Without landowner permission to access the area to a reasonable start point, this activation would not have been considered by me at least. Even so a there-and-back walking distance of 12 miles was still necessary.
As in 2015, activating just one of the pair of SOTA’s left some spare time to put on WAB portable square NC72. This was a success for 13 ops who hung around until late afternoon and most of these would likely never have worked this square before.
Whilst not as sensational as 2015, the 7 MHz band was in sufficiently good condition to provide contacts around the UK and the closer continent, with the exception of one SP contact a little further away.
The use of the WAB frequency is an advantage that usually leads to a greater QSO count. The down side is that it is blocked for use by mobiles for a significant time. However, in this case, conditions were not favouring mobile operations. In the words of Geoff G7BGA, many of the WAB ops who normally use 7.160 were not copying one another today.
This band was a big disappointment with just a single QSO to show for ten or more minutes of 50 Watt CQ’s in CW and SSB following Sotawatch spots by G4SSH. Initially I thought the reason for this was the fact that I had omitted to open the dipole links for 20m. In fact I actually worked the QRP station SP9AMH (Mariusz) in SSB with the aerial configured for 40m! The antenna error was soon put right but to no advantage.
Feeding my Top Band SOTA enthusiasm, Ray GM3PIL in Nairn did me proud once again in CW but there were no further QSO’s in any mode. I could hear both Ray and another local station Jon GM0SFQ in Alness in SSB; both at 56 but they couldn’t hear me.
Using what can be carried onto a remote summit in a rucksack for this low frequency, it’s hardly surprising. As far as the recommended half wavelength AGL is concerned, the antenna might just as well be lying on the ground and I only had 50 Watts in full daylight. I have had many Top Band SOTA successes and just as many failures. It’s difficult, which ironically, is part of the reason I do it.
It would have been nice to get a few more callers on here and to be fair, Ray GM3PIL did manage to drum up some support from Nairn and Elgin. Five Watts to the half-wave vertical J-Pole was evidently doing a fairly good job. It was actually possible to converse with Ray (in Nairn) using just a 2-Watt UV-3R handheld and its own antenna, while sitting down. This and the FT817 were used to arrange the 160m sessions.
3.5 MHz was an afterthought following the failure of 160m SSB to bring in the local stations that Ray had invited via 2m-FM.
Ray GM3PIL easily reworked me on the chosen frequency of 3.760, with Jon GM0SFQ just ‘scraping’ in at 58/ 41. It also showed that you can’t assume anything. In this case I thought it pointless to call or text Roy G4SSH for a spot. Surely 80m would be closed in the early afternoon and at this point in the sunspot cycle. I was taken aback when called by M3FEH Karl in Cornwall who must have found the three of us by chance, or at least via an educated guess. Reports weren’t the greatest but the noise level was very low.
After 17 miles on a dirt road, my XYL’s car was absolutely filthy at the back. I tried my best to remove some of the pale brown dust using a tissue but ended up making a worse mess.
With this one in the bag and Ben Armine too, I don’t imagine that I will ever need to use that dirt road again. After many years of targeting ‘new’ GM/NS summits on the drip, I have come to the end of the process. Those remaining are just one and two pointers but more to the point, they don’t have names which I recognize or have ever heard of. Most of them will be low, pathless and tick infested so if I do come back it will be to repeat some of the easier classics that I have had a lot of pleasure putting on over the years.
The QSO count of 52 was well down on the 95 gained from Ben Armine in 2015. The additional 13 contacts from WAB square NC72 helped. In 2015 just six stations worked it.
To ALL STATIONS worked. To G4SSH for spots with a separate thank you to Roy G4SSH for his invaluable real time band advice and SMS text or telephone spotting Service.
I also need to offer my thanks to the two estate managers; Brian of Badanloch & Neil of Loch Choire, for giving their consent for access, without which I wouldn't have tackled NS65 due to its extreme remoteness. Walking a total of 29 miles in and out would have been next to impossible. When doing HF power, twelve miles is far enough.
Thanks to Ray GM3PIL for taking the time out to monitor 2m-FM via a 70cm link and work me on 160m. Thanks to the WAB organization for the loan of 7.160 MHz.
Thanks to my XYL for the holiday and for the use of her car. I promise to wash it!
73, John G4YSS
Using GM4YSS/P (database) and Scarborough Special Events Group Club call - GS0OOO/P.
Note: GM/NS-038 Cranstackie and GM/NS-107 Ben Horn reports to follow in due course.
Above: Parked by the track at the old quarry. Home-brew loaded whip for 40m on mag-mt. & 5/8 for 2m on suction mt.
Above: Stalker path opposite Ben Armine. Minor descent
Above: Stalker path and right turn. Creag Mhor in background
Above: Rough ground down to col 462m. Creag Mhor ahead
Above: Looking back towards stalker path and Ben Armine.
Above: Activation of GM/NS-065 Creag Mhor and HF dipole
Above: Activation of GM/NS-065 Creag Mhor. HF dipole & VHF J-Pole. Showers of drizzle
Above: GM/NS-065 Creag Mhor plant life
Above: The return. Stalker path and Ben Armine
Above: Activation of WAB Portable square NC72 on stalker path.
Above: One of the locals