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G4YSS: Gt.WHERNSIDE, NP8 NFD/SOTA, 04-07-10


#1

Gt.WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008 / IO94AD. VHF-NFD / SOTA, 04-July-10, 06:22 to 17:28

G4YSS (using SSEG club callsign - GX0OOO/P).
All times BST (UTC plus 1) unless stated as UTC (‘z’).

IC706-2G, 9-ely parabeam for 70cm, 3-ely SOTA-Beam for 144, Half-Wave vertical for 4m, J-Pole for 2m FM. 80m link dipole on 5m mast for MF-HF. Loading coils for 160m.

2 x 8.8 Ah Li-Po & 1 x 9.0 Ah Li-Po batteries. 1 x 7.5 Ah SLAB for backup (not used) (34 Ah total)
4m Band & backup: IC-E90 Quad-band 5W H/H with integral 7.2V / 1.3Ah Li-Po battery.

Pack weight: 21kg, (46 pounds) including 1.75 ltr water & 1 ltr ice. (25kg in 2008-9)

Set off from Scarborough on my own at 03:35 BST. Sadly, Son Phil, G0UUU declined once more.

The MWIS Mountain WX forecast for the Lakes & Dales was very off putting. It was predicted to be rainy with high winds gusting to 80 mph. Accu Weather was more optimistic but still predicted moderately high winds, rain and widespread low-cloud. Faced with this I had the choice to go or ‘cry off’ but this would to be the eighth consecutive year of NP8 Field Day events for me and it would be a shame to leave a gap and let the other contestants down. As always, the idea was not to enter, just enjoy the increased VHF activity, give out a few /P points to people whilst satisfying the SOTA chasers at the same time.

The date of NFD is fixed in stone so there was no choice but to cancel or try to protect from the elements as best I could. I made up some storm guys for the tent and cut nine 18 inch lengths of stout cane from my bamboo plant, to act as extra tent pegs. There are slight dips in the ground on NP8, which give a little respite from the worst of the wind. Great for HF but VHF must be set up with the best possible takeoff and in the teeth of the weather. I will admit to some nervousness and lack of sleep regarding safety but I would rather face high winds and rain than lightning any day.

Route:
Arrived to park the car at the top of Park Rash (SD 9863 7573) at 05:20 and walked away at 05:39. It was quite breezy but encouragingly by no means a gale. The parking area, though at 1500 feet was clear of cloud too. The route is simple but there is a little re-ascent. A path, boggy in places, goes SE via a wall with step-gate and a couple of steep gullies to a stile at SD 9963 7522, where the gradient eases. The well-defined path takes minor detours around outcrop and is marked by a series of yellow-topped posts (at SE 0005 7468, SE 0019 7429 and SE 0022 7414). The summit cairn and trig-point (SE 00205 73905) showed themselves out of low-cloud by 06:22. Ascent is modest at 211m and distance is around 5.5km (up & down).

After realising the QTH waypoint was inexplicably absent from my GPS (probably as it was not part of the route) I walked NE from the trig for a couple of hundred metres to find the usual but featureless operating point in the mist. 50m short of the target I came across three tents; one was just an open-ended shelter with swirling mist going through it. To come upon this presence at this time of morning was so unexpected as to be shocking but not in a bad way unless they were all there to do the contest! All seemed quiet but at 06:30 there was no response to my cheery ‘Good Morning.’ I was to meet the occupants much later whence I think they were more shocked than I was, the mist clearing briefly to reveal what must have been a surreal sight to them.

Though wet in places, the enormous flat top makes an ideal VHF takeoff whilst allowing a huge choice for setting up. The surface is grass on peat, which will readily accept masts and tent pegs to any depth required.

Aerials:
Standing in the brisk wind and cloud, it took a while to decide on where to put the station. The great temptation to site it down below a 2 foot step in the ground was almost irresistible but on the top it went just like previous years. It took over an hour to prepare the station consisting of the flapping flysheet, half of an 18-ely Parabeam atop a 2.2m (hand-carried) dural tube, a modified 2m-3ely SOTA Beam supported in identical manner and an 80m link dipole on its 5m mast. The 2m J-Pole and 4m end-fed aerials were fixed on the ridge tent’s front and rear poles which were in turn supported by extra storm guys and the impromptu bamboo pegs.

The flysheet is lower at the rear and this was positioned into wind. I was immensely grateful that the WX had at least cooperated up to this stage. Wind speed was a good 25 or 30 mph already but there had been no rain. The surface was drier than in most previous years.

A simple poly ground-sheet, pegged down with short lengths of home-grown bamboo and for the first time, a cheap PVC airbed (600gm) added the final touch of ‘luxury.’ The beams are positioned either side of the flysheet near the front, so that they can be rotated with one hand under the side. The HF dipole needs to be out of the way at the side of the ‘camp.’

Rigs:
The trusty IC706-2G was canted up on a stone and connected to the first of three 8.8 Ah batteries but it needs to be wrapped in aluminium mesh if it is to function on the 2m band. This has nothing to do with my lightweight panel modification. Once in its mesh home, it performed faultlessly all day. Since its introduction in 2009, the IC-E90 has seemed to handle the 4m FM requirement very well and was left connected to the 4m vertical for much of the day.

Power:
Up to and including the 2008 NFD, an old aircraft battery with a rating of 36 Ah (at the 20hr automotive rating) fed the rig. This thing weighs in at 10.8kg, inflicts agony on the lower back when carrying it and results in pack weights in excess of 60 pounds. The 2009 solution was 40 Ah in the form of three 7.5 Ah SLABS (22.5 Ah and 8kg of SLABS) plus (17.6 Ah at 1.45 kg of Li-Po’s) (total weight – 9.5 kg). Still heavy (55 pound pack) and not all used. For this year I bought two 4.5Ah Li-Po’s paralleling them into one 9 Ah battery. To his were added the two 8.8Ah Li-Po’s used last year and a 7.5 Ah SLAB for good luck, though the latter was not needed. Despite the addition of the 600gm airbed, 4kg was saved on pack weight due to re-specifying and reducing the power supply.

Water:
This year I took 2.75 litres but because of the WX only 0.5ltr was used. Some was poured away before the descent but 0.75 ltr. plus and a can of sardines was depoted with rocks piled on top. Anyone can use this; just tell me when it‘s gone.

GREAT WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008, 704m, 6 pts for SOTA. 06:22 to 17:28. 13 to 15 Deg.C. 25 to 50 mph wind. Low-cloud until late afternoon. Rain on & off from noon with sun at the end. WAB: SE07. LOC: IO-94-AD.

Reliable mobile phone coverage (O2 & Orange) is still lacking on this summit but occasionally the network ‘pops up’ unexpectedly.

Unfortunately GB3YC Scarborough, which was easily reachable with a watt or two, is now off the air for good, having been replaced by a digital repeater on the same site at Octon. Thus safety is much reduced; something that did not sit well with me in view of the predicted WX. A priority was to set up 2m FM to establish a direct link with Roy G4SSH at Irton (Scarborough). This would provide a useful safety and operational service and was successfully set up using 5W to the half-wave vertical on the front tent pole. At 102km from Irton, NP8 is the closest 2k to Scarborough. I was 33 to him but Roy was 57 with his 70W. I could not hear Scarborough stations Kevin G0NUP or Nick G4OOE but they may have been using low power for local comms or were screened.

160m CW for SOTA - 3 QSO‘s:
Before starting with the contest I wanted to get 160m out of the way rather than leave it until the D-Layer got any more ionised.

It almost goes without saying that with the exception of G4OBK who was out activating, the 160m enthusiasts would be up at the alerted time of 8 o-clock local. With 100W to the loaded dipole and helped by a spot from G4SSH, I logged 3 stations. All were in Scarborough! It must have helped that G4SSH, G0NUP and G4OOE were all just about in line of sight but I was disappointed not to work any further. Last year (same time & place) I worked EI2CL in Dublin & G3RMD in Cheltenham but as we know, QRN is the major barrier to 160m daytime SOTA.

I must take time here to welcome Nick G4OOE to SOTA. Despite it being only 64 miles, it was great to have our first QSO on Top Band since the late 80’s when we managed it around midnight from G4YSS & G4SSH to ZC4EE (Aka G4OOE in Cyprus).
…………………………………

VHF-NFD……

2m SSB for VHF-NFD - 46 QSO‘s (inc 1 in CW) :
With Field Day, the best option seems to be to dip into each band & work across it a couple of times, exchanging with all stations which can be heard. After that it’s a good idea to park on a spot and call CQ for a while on different beam headings until that ploy dries up. One advantage is that the latter gives SOTA chasers half a chance, rather than constantly trying to hit a moving target which must be infuriating at times. Thanks must go to G3OHC for spotting a one of my fixed frequencies with SOTA chasers in mind. When fresh stations become hard to find, a QSY to another band without delay is the best recourse. You can always come back later to repeat the process after new stations have appeared.

In seven separate sessions on 144 MHz SSB from 07:25 to 13:55z, I made 46 contest exchanges. In between were QSY’s to 4m FM and 70cm SSB with sweeps of 6m. As NFD stations go, 50W and a modest 3-ely horizontal SOTA Beam was nothing to write home about but as much as I could carry. As it was this beam was causing grief by swinging in high winds gusts until it was re-jigged. I logged EI, MI, PA & ON as well as the more routine Scotland but not Wales. Germany was heard but not worked. On a handful of occasions I was called at the end of an exchange on someone else’s frequency and asked to QSY. A good way to track me down. Perhaps they were keen on logging IO94 or the SOTA? Once or twice by this means, I ended up with my own QRG for a period and G3OHC spotted me there once. Again I worked IO93AD from IO94AD and he remembered. G0VHF resorts to CW often and that’s how I managed to work him in JO01PU.

I heard Jimmy M3EYP/P working the contest from SOTA GW (I think) but he was working someone else and was weak to me. The most productive period last year was around noon as a result of calling ‘CQ SOTA / CQ Contest’ on a fixed spot for an hour and working 24 ops. This didn’t seem to work as well this year and there seem to be fewer stations up as each year passes. Sometimes there were only one or two signals audible on the entire band which is unusual. Rarely this year were signals squashed together or overlapping on 2m.

There were many comments regarding the windy conditions but nobody who I spoke to was higher than me though some were getting it worse being further north / west than NP8. It wasn’t as easy to work in the tent this year. The noise of flapping fabric and beating rain made things a bit of a chore. The door zip kept opening on its own and because there was no inner tent, condensation rained down on me and the log so badly I was forced to don waterproofs. I had to keep going outside to adjust beams and fix a mast which snapped off at ground level. The 4m FM vertical heeled over at 45 degrees and broke the top of the tent pole. There was always the anxiety that the tent might not survive or I wouldn’t be able to get everything packed up in the rucksack easily.

Bivvy Beings:
During this session the occupants of the three tents I’d passed at 06:30 on the way up came over to greet me. They were interested and asked what it was all about. The fact that they had camped 50m away from ‘my’ year after year QTH on this massive top was pure coincidence. They were on a 3-day walking break and I took their photos; two males and one girl, with the station in the scene.

70cm SSB for VHF-NFD - 10 QSO‘s:
70cm was the recourse at 11:24z and again at 13:17z - the more productive session. Using just the 9 elements of my son Phil’s 18-ely Parabeam makes it better to carry, mount and rotate whilst still retaining useful gain. It is also less ‘peaky’ to aim and more stable in high winds. Once 2m has been fully exploited, 432 is the place to go. Stations in the 144 log can be reworked as they appear.

With 20W from the IC706, only 10 stations were worked (15 in 2009) but no sign of PA6NL in JO21BX as per last year. EI9E/P in IO62OM was possibly the most distant station worked; all the rest being G‘s. He referred me up from 2m and seemed very pleased when I called him hours after first trying and failing. He also asked if 23cm was available at GX0OOO but I could only offer them 4m FM; an offer that wasn’t taken up.

6m SSB for VHF-Contest unknown?:
I normally work a CT1 on here but last year it was dead. Sadly 6m is now a Saturday only band for NFD but I did find stations working contest style on there so happily called a few of them using my 80m dipole as an aerial for 6. I had trouble making them hear and only managed to work 9AKS in JN69UD with difficulty. I also worked YO6EV using CW.

4m FM for VHF-NFD, SOTA & general - 5 QSO‘s:
Other than FM, I had no TX for this band but contest style exchanges were with M3ZHG/P - IO83QE, G5FZ/P - IO93RH, G4IJM - IO94IM, G3YVY - IO94IO and G4BLH Mike near Nelson for SOTA after the contest ended.

The final three stations were worked on 2m just prior to the end of the contest at 14:00z when the second 8.8 Ah battery failed.

SOTA……

80m CW for SOTA - 7 QSO’s:
A message via the 2m FM link to G4SSH got me a post for 3.532. Roy told me that the 40m-band was in poor shape with 10MHz not much better and 14MHz had a contest running. Using 30 to 100W of RF, I worked 5 English stations on 80m CW plus Ken GM0AXY and Mike EI2CL. Mike sadly hadn’t copied me on Top Band in the morning.

80m SSB for SOTA - 5 QSO’s:
G4BLH, GW7AAV, G0RQL, G4OOE and 2E0DAI. Power output was 60W.

30m CW for SOTA - 11 QSO’s:
After fitting a fresh 9Ah Li-Po for the SOTA session, I had battery power to spare but forgot to adjust up from 40W. 10.118 was occupied so I slipped down 500Hz and worked DL6KVA who kindly posted me. There followed 9A7W, HB9AGO, F5SQA, 9A4MF, HA7UG, HB9AGH, HA5TI, G3WPF, DL4FDM (always good to hear Fritz) and finally DF5WA.

At 16:18 BST after a brief exchange with Roy on 2m it was QRT time. By this juncture I’d had enough of the inclement WX.

That was it. VHF-NFD / SOTA on NP8 was over for the eighth year running. After a late dowsing and with the wind still very strong, it was fine again outside but the thought of getting the extensive ‘encampment’ back into the rucksack made me a bit irritable. However swearing at the wind is never going to have any effect and it took 70 minutes to 17:28. Wimbledon on 5-live 909 kHz took my mind off the chore but the one-sided tennis match was soon over. The dark clouds gave way to sunshine and despite being blown off the path several times, once which ‘tweaked’ my ankle, I was back at the car by 18:04.

Powers (typical):
VHF NFD: 20W on 70cm, mostly 50W on 2m & 3.5W on 4m FM.
SOTA: 40W on 30m CW, 100W on 160m CW, up to 100W on 80m CW and 60W on 80 SSB. 100W on 6m CW/SSB.

Battery utilization:
Two 8.8 Ah Li-Po 100 % depleted.
One 9 Ah Li-Po, 82 min (at the 4.8 Amp test current) remaining after 23 HF QRO QSO’s.
7.5 Ah Lead-Acid battery not used.
Estimated 21 Ah used; leaving 13 Ah unused from a total of 34 Ah.

VHF-NFD discussion:
In approximately 6.5 hours (gross) of contesting, 61 Serial numbers had been given out which works out at 6.5 minutes per QSO. This sounds poor and indeed it is very poor. Much of the time was spent ‘hunting’ up & down the bands, QSYing, turning the beam or dealing with the effects of the violent weather. From my viewpoint conditions and/ or band occupancy seemed worse than 2009 when 143 QSO’s for NFD & SOTA were worked.

The stations calling CQ didn’t seem to be getting answered all that frequently and it was noticeable that many were using voice chips to call. That said there was considerable success in some quarters with the highest serial numbers at 349 (G0FBB/P on 2m at 12:04z) and 328 (ON4MCL on 2m at 12:25).

Generally speaking, the time and effort taken to get the exchange correct and confirmed, especially for marginal contacts, was commendable. One thing that should be remembered is to periodically turn the beam north to give our GM friends a chance but they were mostly absent; by my reckoning probably because the WX was even more ‘exciting’ up there. From my side, NFD is just for fun, to give out points and the SOTA summit without the bureaucracy of submitting a contest entry.

I don’t know what was happening on 6m. It wasn’t but it seemed like NFD so I joined in.

Once again operating was gentlemanly and hassle free throughout but few had time to give out names this year. For strong stations, I often ‘threw in’ the SOTA Ref with the LOC in case any one wanted to chase it and far from being annoyed by the extra time this took, quite a few contesters reacted positively and were interested, though probably purely from the viewpoint of the enhanced VHF capability that a 2310 foot QTH can offer. Balanced against the height available is the fact there are limits to the quality of aerials and other equipment that can be carried up and my less than optimal operating skills stemming partly from discomfort and the WX didn‘t help. The airbed did make tings a little better however but took 10 minutes to flatten at he end!

As always, there was plenty of reaction to the callsign GX0OOO/P. Nobody laughed; most made complimentary comments but about 25% of the stations got it as GX0OO/P under marginal conditions. All were corrected, ‘One more Oscar.’

Great Whernside is chosen each year for its easterly position which provides good radio paths up and down the east side of the Pennines relatively unhindered. It’s simple to climb from a 1500 foot parking spot and there’s a huge amount of space up there. Grass on peat makes it quick and easy to install a comprehensive station. The ‘big lift’ required for NFD can be tolerated for the short time it takes to get up there. Route-finding and paths are generally but mobile phone coverage is unreliable to say the least. Another down side (literally) to all this is the ‘accommodation.’ You cannot stand or sit very easily in a small ridge tent. For most of the time I was on my side with my head unsupported. This caused a lot of pain after several hours; I’m not as supple as I used to be!

QSO Summary.
VHF-NFD Contest:
2m SSB: 46
70cm SSB: 10
6m SSB: 1 (Contest unknown)
4m FM: 4
Total (Contest): 61

Non-Contest / SOTA
160m CW: 3
30m CW: 11
80m CW: 7
80m SSB: 5
6m CW: 1
4m FM: 1

Total (SOTA): 29
Grand Total: 90 QSO’s.

5.5 km (up & down) and approx 211m (692ft) of ascent.
Pack weight: 21kg, (46 pounds - reduced from 55 pounds last two years.)
Drive home: 18:10 to 20:00 (inc. diesel stop) - on empty roads. This was SSEG’s 8th successive VHF field day on NP8, Scarborough’s closest 2k at 63 miles line of sight and only 154 miles round trip by road.

Thank you to spotters: Roy G4SSH, EI2CL, G3OHC, G4BLH and DL6KVA. You did a great job.
Thanks to all SOTA chasers and contest stations for a really enjoyable day albeit tempered by the weather.

73, John G4YSS
(using Scarborough Special Events Group callsign; GX0OOO/P).


#2

Hi John,

Me and my Dad M1EYP were activation Tal y Fan GW/NW-040 for the 2m back packers contest. My Dad was mainly working the contest stations; I worked a few contest stations during this activation mainly if the contest station was also a SOTA station. Sorry I didn’t manage to work you yesterday for the summit to summit contact.

Jimmy M3EYP


#3

In reply to G4YSS:
Sorry I missed you on 160m John - had a lie in to recover from grandson’s 2nd birthday at my sons.
Nice to work you on 2m SSB just before setting off for granddaughter’s first birthday at my daughters.

Roger G4OWG