G4YSS Activation of NP14 on 80m & 160m, 03-02-16
ROGAN’S SEAT on 3.5 & 1.8 MHz CW & SSB QRO.
Accompanied by Sasha (a Lurcher - Greyhound x Staffy) on her fourth SOTA
G4YSS using SSEG Club-call GX0OOO/P
All times UTC (Sunset 16:52)
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver for HF & VHF
MX-P50M HF (80 thru 10) 50 Watt Linear Amplifier
Adjustable link dipole for 80-40-20 with loading coils for 160m
5m home-brew CFC mast with 1m end sticks
One 6 Ah Li-Po battery. (2.2 Ah reserve - not used)
IC-E90 Quad Band VHF-5W Handheld for 2m-FM (not used)
Pocket Rig: Vero VGC UV-X4; 2W VHF/ UHF, 5oz H/H (not used)
Packweight: 11kg (24 pounds) inc. 1.25L water, dog food, bowl and an additional dog coat.
The first airing of GX0OOO/P this year and furthermore the first winter bonus of the 2015-16 season, this was long overdue. The reason or perhaps the excuse, has been the weather; mild but wet and stormy since early December or arguably November last year. Not just that, the driving force for going out in any weather went when a personal milestone of 1000 winter points clocked up last March. Setting personal targets can be counter productive in the end.
This sortie, planned initially for December Sunday 6th, was cancelled when UK storm Desmond came along. The sole purpose was to put one of the last two remaining NP summits on Top Band; the other being Cold Fell. That’s not counting one-pointers of course. I’d remembered to remove the sandwiches but otherwise the packed rucksack had hung around since that December weekend, one which saw much of the LD and NP activation areas flooded out. Reasoning that the climbing could possibly have been achieved, the cancellation was really down to flooded roads barring the way to the start point. A glance at the Low Row webcam backed up the assumption.
The weather didn’t get any better throughout the rest of the month and most of January too, all evidenced by a dearth of activations in the UK. Storm after storm rolled across the country and only a few hardy souls exploiting short weather windows, appeared sporadically on mountains, mostly on VHF. The only thing it had going for it was that the period was unseasonably mild.
SOTA history shows that NP14’s status in the G/NP league table puts it in the bottom three with just 42 activations in 14 years. This is probably due to its relative remoteness and the fact that when its name is mentioned even in Yorkshire, people tend to ask, ‘where’s that?’
Sasha the Lurcher was deemed keen enough to come along for her fourth SOTA and to gain her first winter bonus points. I packed a rolled-up foam mat, her red fur-lined waterproof to go over the fleece she would be wearing and plenty of dog treats. To complete the kit a kind of doggy scarf was added and knowing that 160m activations go best after sunset, a spare headlamp for her to wear on the way down. Her natural coat is thin and she would likely suffer badly after a short time in the winter wind-chill. Though she’s well fed, she is built for speed not comfort and regularly shivers without good reason.
My 2003 expedition used a long tortuous route starting from Tan Hill Inn, at (by memory) 1,732ft ASL, the highest Pub in England. This proved difficult owing to a lack of real paths, despite the lesser height-gain required and the boggy, broken ground. The object was to avoid significant ascent and 2km less walking but any effort saved was more than wiped out by the walking conditions. It’s one of those things where the obvious choice; walking or cycling up the track, is also the right one. I have employed a bike twice for NP14 but not today. I didn’t wish to injure the dog by tangling her in bike spokes added to the fact fitting the bike carrier and bike to the car is a pain.
The sign at the track’s start-point (at Dyke Heads, SD 9406 9836, on the C-road half way between Gunnerside and Ivelet) announces ‘No Unauthorised Vehicles’ despite the fact that it had blown down today. The only notable landmarks (after the view down into Gunnerside Gill is left behind) are Botcher Gill, where one must pass via an unlocked gate (NY 9354 0058) and later-on a right turn off the C2C route, at NY 9265 0121. There is a large hut at NY 9227 0248, soon after which the track traverses (via NY 9200 0312) the extensive and ill-defined summit, with its tussock & heather-topped peat-mounds. A stone shelter which might go unseen in low-cloud, lies 150m west from the track at NY 9178 0310, with an ASL a couple of metres shy of NP14’s 672m. I would be cautious about sitting under the heavy overhang of this shelter, particularly in high winds. The diminutive summit cairn is at NY 9193 0307.
Getting up on what I thought would be a normal Wednesday I began to ponder on what Roy G4SSH had told me the evening before; that we were going to get a rare good day. True enough the sun was shining outside so at 09:30 I made the decision to go for it. Back in December the expedition sandwiches had been deposited in the freezer so those came out first.
MWIS indicated a summit temperature of 1 to 2C with a brisk north westerly breeze of up to 30 mph and sunshine. Knowing the nature of the wall-less NP14 summit, I was hoping MWIS were being pessimistic with the wind speed prediction which in my experience can happen more often than not. Just in case, I tied an umbrella to the rucksack. Most of the rucksack’s contents were how they had been abandoned two months ago, including the 6 Ah Li-Po battery which I didn’t check, reasoning that they have low self discharge characteristics.
Sasha had already been delivered to me by her owner for a local walk so a quick text to check that it was OK to take her up Rogan’s Seat and we were away by 10:30am. The 90 mile journey via the A170; A1 and A6108 brought us to the start point near Gunnerside by 12:45 (see Route above). The A1 past Catterick still has roadworks festooned with average speed cameras and a 50 mph limit so it was unclear whether I could return the same way despite what the satnav told me.
We were walking by 13:10. Strictly speaking the dog should have been on a lead all the way up but there were no sheep on the hill so after clearing Gunnerside, Sasha was allowed the freedom to run around at will so long as she didn’t disturb the Grouse. Intrigued by their call at first and all ears, she rapidly lost interest on discovering they were mere birds; her being a small furry beast enthusiast. There were no other walkers on the track but we did exchange greetings with the gamekeeper on his quad bike near the summit.
ROGAN’S SEAT, NP-014, 672m, 4 points: 14:33 to 17:33, 15 mph NW wind dropping to 10mph, 3 deg C dropping to minus 1 deg C after sunset. Sunshine most of the time. No low-cloud. Tiny patches of lying snow. No Orange (EE) phone coverage after leaving Gunnerside. LOC: IO84WK; WAB: NY90.
After visiting the summit cairn for photos, we backtracked to some natural shelter provided by raised ground beside the track at NY 9205 0283. Sasha ran round in circles like a mad thing while I set up the dipole. I deployed the foam mat but she wouldn’t sit on it, trying instead to tear up the grass with her front paw while circling - a sure sign she wanted to lie down in comfort but dogs just don’t understand. I had to stop her when she started to do the same to my best Primaloft jacket.
3.557 CW - 13 QSO’s:
With no phone signal I was thankful that I’d alerted the start frequency of 3.557 CW before leaving home. Speaking to Roy G4SSH on 2m-FM, as I drove past his house, allowed me to fill him in on what might be expected. One call was all it took to raise Roy with a 589/ 559 exchange and the long overdue first QSO of the winter was now in the log.
After Roy: G3RMD; OH9XX; DL1FU; GI4ONL; G4WSB all with 30 Watts. I was surprised to work stations outside the UK but had a bit of difficulty with DL8DXL before raising the power to 50 Watts. There followed G4CMQ; LA1ENA; G7ROY; G4OBK; G4FGJ and finally DL3HXX. UK incoming reports were in the range 559 to 579 with a 589 from Northern Ireland and 599 from Phil G4OBK. I got 339 and a 349 from the overseas stations but at least we were able to work. Not bad for 80m in mid afternoon.
During this session the received audio level was changing between very loud and almost imperceptible but I just couldn’t think where I’d experienced this kind of problem in the past and what had caused it. A blip of the key would cure it most of the time but then it would recur. The same went for a burst of noise on the received signal. The ‘HI SWR’ message would flash on the FT817ND screen from time to time but we soldiered on more in hope than expectation.
After returning home I found that the patch lead’s PL-259 outer shell into the back of the linear was loose on its thread and therefore the coax outer had obviously been making intermittent contact with the FT817. This is simple and easily remedied so why wasn’t it diagnosed on the hill?
By now Sasha had seen sense and was lying on the mat provided. Even with her two coats and a scarf she was shivering slightly so I sacrificed my mountain jacket to cover her against the wind. Now happy, she was dozing within 5 minutes while I ‘chilled out’ in base layer and fleece while perched on a thin map case.
3.724 SSB - 23 QSO’s:
The normal practice of ‘SSB’ sent several times in CW enabled Roy to spot me on 3.724 and we were away again. First in was Carolyn G6WRW with 58 both ways. Using 50 Watts at first and 30 Watts for the second half, I logged: G0FEX; G0VWP; G0RQL; G4WSB; G7JVG; GM4WHA; G4SSH; G4RQJ; GW0HGP; G0HRT; G3RMD; G0TDM; 2E0FGQ; G1BLJ; G8ADD; G0SYF; G3YPE; GM0AXY & GM4YMM; G4XNR; GW4ZPL and G4OBK. Many 59 reports were received in this session but some chasers were suffering QSB on my signal. That was most likely just conditions but the PL-259 problem could easily have added to it and I got some 33; 39 and 48 reports. As the sun got ready to sink in the west continental QRM started to build.
1.832 CW - 2 QSO’s:
The real purpose of the activation had finally come around; to get NP14 its first Top Band SOTA contact. It was still sunny but knowing I was going to be rather late home, a start was made by notifying G4SSH on 80m-SSB that I would be on 160m in twenty minutes. I first called Phil G4OBK but he must have been briefly out of the shack. A CQ brought in Frank G3RMD in Cheltenham and I was pleasantly surprised by what this QSO promised as much as the 579 RST’s we exchanged. Surely I would get a bunch of contacts on here but it was not to be; not with CW at least.
G4OBK called in from Pickering YSN, giving my 50 Watts a 579 report. Phil was 599 of course. I would have expected no less! He was using a Beverage aerial to listen on and an inverted L for transmit. Strange to say my signals were inaudible on the inverted L.
Leaving it as late as possible, I now called Roy G4SSH, who came back with a 229 report. I sent back 449 several times but the timing was wrong and I couldn’t be sure he’d got it. A few seconds later I heard his 73’s but sadly he was suffering deep QSB; my signal disappearing at the crucial time. I then heard someone else call, just catching a ‘G’ and perhaps ‘WP?’ The note was slightly modulated. Could this have been G0VWP - Terry in York? I tried to pull him in but my signal must have dropped again and he didn’t return.
After this a CQ brought nothing further so I QSY’d to SSB knowing I’d be back here afterwards for another listen in CW as per my alert. The Top Band policy on trial at the moment is to alternate between the two modes and memory channels so long as both frequencies remain clear. That’s almost certain in the middle of the day but less likely as dusk approaches.
1.843 SSB - 6 QSO’s:
More success was to be had with voice mode and waiting, as had happened following the 80m-SSB QSY, was G6WRW. Carolyn toyed with the idea of calling me earlier in CW but now gave me a 55 report in SSB. She was coming in at about 57 and Kidderminster was in the log. Now a mini pileup on 160m of all places! At least two stations calling at once - maybe three. Next in the log was Frank G3RMD from Cheltenham; 57 both ways followed by Don G0RQL from Holdsworth, Devon - 57 to me but a slight struggle for Don who gave me a 41 report.
The big signal from G4OBK can’t usually be mistaken but there was QSB on it this time. That could have been the PL-259 playing up again and Phil’s 57 signal soon bounced up to 59 plus.
By now the temperature had dropped below zero and I was stiffening up rapidly. Jogging up and down the track for a couple of minutes helped both me and the dog warm up a little before we returned to the rig. I tucked her in again and then called CQ on 1.832-CW without result. A response came back on the SSB channel with G3SNT answering from near Durham. I didn’t recognise him as a chaser so gave out fuller details. As I remember, Roger was running 80 Watts into a non-160m antenna, presumably via a tuner. How often do I hear that! It proves that there is hope for anybody who wants to chance their arm on Top Band. Our exchange was 58/ 56 but like Phil G4OBK, it could have been a ‘semi’ line of sight contact.
Just as the sun set I called for what was to be the final QSO. G3RDQ came back from Hampshire with another 57/ 56 exchange. Half way through the rig cut out so I dropped the power to 30 Watts and finished the QSO. I think David was also using some contrivance other than a 160m antenna but I was too concerned about the battery to listen closely. He did seem pleased with the QSO however and that pleased me too.
I rummaging in the rucksack pocket for the spare battery - a 2.2 Ah Li-Po - but finding I’d brought the one with a wrong connector, I briefly called CQ on 1.832-CW for a final time with the almost dead 6 Ah. No response.
I was about to switch off when I heard an engine. Grabbing the camera I snapped the gamekeeper we’d seen at the start. He stopped his quad and came over to us. 'What yer on wi ‘ere like?’ delivered in broader Yorkshire than even I could muster. After Phil G4OBK’s experiences up here a few years ago I was a little wary but was determined not to show it.
Explaining in simple terms what me and the dog were there to do, he became first interested and then incredulous after learning to whom I was talking. I showed him the log, explaining the meaning of the callsigns. ‘That one’s England, that’s Norway and that’s Germany.’ ‘Germany?!’ Amazing. ‘What’s ‘O’ mean?’ ‘OH is Finland.’ He seemed exceedingly impressed but I explained that I was targeting the shorter distances today by using lower frequencies. I let him listen to signals on Top Band. ‘What language is that?’ ‘A Frenchman.’ I followed up with some CW and he requested a demo on how it was sent. We discussed other mountains, Great Shunner, Ingleborough and Nine Standards. My observation that he had the best job for fresh air and exercise was met with, ‘Ay but it’s nay fun in rotten weather.’ Most activators would identify with that comment.
He asked about Sasha; having a dog himself by the same name. He didn’t seem to bother that she was off the lead. I asked what he’d been doing in the 2 or 3 hours since we last met. ‘Checking stoat traps.’ Apparently stoats are quite prolific as are rats, even at over 2000 feet and in winter. I asked what the weather had been like in Swaledale lately. ‘Weather!’ It’s never stopped 'h’issing it down since mid November ‘till last week.’ Gunnerside had been cut off from the east for ordinary cars on four occasions. His was a small Honda Civic which he’d been forced to drive out via Tan Hill and the A66 in order to access Richmond. After saying our goodbye’s he jumped on the quad and was soon out of sight down the hill. As luck would have it, we had met the nice gamekeeper. Phil was not so fortunate!
By now it was 17:10 and thinking Mark G0VOF might have arrived home from work, a final CQ was tried to no avail. Mildly regretting the absence of a bicycle, I made ready to leave. We both donned our headlamps; Sasha’s on a strap around her neck. A standard orange pound shop unit with three AAA batteries and turned upside down to shine forward did a fine job and added confidence should she have decided to wander off.
The QTH was abandoned at 17:33 and we marched down in the dark, line astern for the first half. The closer we got to Gunnerside, the more the dog darted off to one side or the other, sniffing for rabbits until I could take it no longer. When the gradually receding light got nearly 50m away I had to stop, shout her back and put her on the lead for the final half mile or so. We caught the car number plate in the headlight beam when it was less than 20m away. A welcome sight, the dog was safely inside by 18:40.
The drive home was not without its complications. As expected the satnav took me under the A1 near Catterick but A1 access at that point is currently unavailable. We had to drive north to Scotch Corner on ordinary roads and join the A1 southbound there. I arrived home by 21:30 after dropping Sasha off at Cayton.
Ascent & Distance: 389m (1,276ft). 14.5km (9 miles) walked. Driven: 185 miles.
Times: Walking up: 1hr-23min. Walking down: 1hr-7min.
13 on 80m CW.
23 on 80m SSB.
2 on 160m CW
6 on 160m SSB
The track up from Gunnerside was in far better condition than I imagined it would be after all the torrential rain and floods of December and January. I thought there would be ruts but the surface was much as it was a few years ago and it can be restated that his activation would still be ideally suited for a mountain bike. It would be possible (if it was permitted) to drive a 2-WD car up from Gunnerside to the summit. The one gate is not locked.
The 80m band was better than I thought it would be. At one stage it seemed to perform as good as 40m often does.
Planning the activation for late in the day paid dividends for Top Band propagation. An important fact is that we enjoyed enhanced propagation despite the fact that the all was complete at the point of sunset. It proves that it doesn’t necessarily need to be dark to work several hundred miles. Either side of midday the limit is usually about 50 miles. I was more than happy with 8 QSO’s on 160m but sorry that at least two others were not completed. The main objective was fulfilled, however. Cold Fell is now in need of similar attention.
The gamekeeper did not object to the large antenna deployment or the presence of a dog on this occasion but judging by what has been reported in the past, I think we were fortunate.
Though it was cold sitting around for three hours, the weather was generally kind to us; the sunshine being especially welcome. I was more concerned for the dog than for myself but succeeded in keeping her warm enough for most of the time. She now has a total of 27 points including her first three WB points, which go nicely towards her Mountain Mutt Basic award.
Making a sudden decision to ‘go’ on the same day worked wonders for apprehension nerves but it’s obviously not a good plan if multiple summits are the intention.
The new length of RG178 coax which replaced the water damaged RG316 on the link dipole that failed on Ben Nevis in September, was tested here and seems to have cured the problem. The outer jacket of the long serving feeder had been breached in several places allowing water to enter and rot the braid. It didn’t help that the subject link dipole has seen at least three deployments in WAB square OV00 just counting the last 10 years. though it wasn’t obvious just by looking, RF current flow and sea water proved a lethal combination.
THANKS to all STATIONS WORKED and to G4SSH & G4OBK for spotting.
73 John, G4YSS (using SSEG Club station callsign, GX0OOO/P)
Above: Track and start point near Gunnerside
Above: Gate at Botcher Gill
Above: Shooting Hut at NY923025
Above: NP14 Summit Cairn. Shelter is on local horizon just right of centre
Above: NP14 80m/ 160m Activation Point near track
Above: NP14 80m/ 160m Activation Point near track
Above: NP14 80m/ 160m Activation Point. One cosy Lurcher!
Above: NP14 80m/ 160m Activation Point near track. The Gamekeeper arrives.
Above: Sasha starting the descent