G4YSS 4-NP Activation Report NP6, NP15, NP10, NP17 on 29-02-12
G/NP-006 /6 Great Shunner Fell.
G/NP-015 /4 Great Knoutberry Hill.
G/NP-010 /4 Pen-y-Ghent.
G/NP-017 /4 Fountains Fell.
On 160m & 80m QRO & 4m FM QRP.
All times GMT on 29-02-12. G4YSS - unaccompanied.
IC706-2G, adjustable dipole, 5m mast, 160m loading coils (at halfway points in each leg)
One 8.8 Ah Li-Po for NP6. One 13.2 Ah Li-Po for NP15 & NP10. One 8.6 Ah Li-Po for NP17.
IC E90 4-Band FM, 5W H/H with extended ‘duck’ and 1.3 Ah integral battery.
QRO pack: 11.5kg (25 pounds).
Once again the fast running-out winter bonus was the main reason for this. Apart from two local HuMPs, which I incidentally enjoyed very much, I had not activated anything this year. The original idea was to put on G/NP6, NP15 & NP16 then choose from NP31 or NP9 if time allowed but plans changed midday because of the weather and lack of shelter on Dodd Fell. (I’m a softy these days.) I also wanted to break-in my new boots prior to any LD trips.
Left Scarborough at 03:21, arriving via the A684, at Buttertubs Pass at 05:38. After struggling into the brand new Scarpa Rangers, I was walking by 05:53 into wind-blown hill fog and darkness.
Lovely Seat is no longer a SOTA so instead of stopping at the cattle grid (SD 8678 9552) I parked where the NP6 track leaves the road at SD 8688 9570. That reduced the walk by 200m each way, saving valuable minutes on what was to be a busy day. I could hear Lapwings calling and circling me in the mist as I walked. The headlamp must have disturbed their nesting activities.
The track was easy to follow via Coal Pit to the fence corner at SD 8694 9639 but by the time I reached Grimy Gutter Haggs I’d lost it. Headlamp backscatter in mist doesn’t help you keep the track or to spot the bogs, so I doffed the light; clutching it in one cold hand instead. The GPS, bless it, got me back on track more than once as I listened to ‘Smooth 70’s’ on the tiny DAB radio. The GPS track log, examined later, made me look drunk. For dark walking you need a previous tracklog or more frequent waypoints which I never got around to adding. The going became easier across Little Shunner Fell as dawn was breaking but by then the shiny new boots were filthy. At the stile (SD 8503 9723) not far short of the summit, it was more or less fully light.
G/NP-006: GT.SHUNNER FELL, 716m, 6 pts, 06:47 to 08:23, 6 deg.C. Wind: 20 mph plus. Overcast with drizzly, swirling low-cloud. No lying snow anywhere in the Dales. IO84VI, WAB SD89. (Orange phone signal.)
The Pennine Way crossed-wall summit shelter with wooden bench seats provided good respite from a cold wind, whilst at the same time giving anchorage for the mast. All was ready by 7am in daylight with Top Band loading coils fitted and adjusted until I realised that I had forgotten to bring the log sheets for the entire day! A scrap of paper was pressed into service until I could tear up an old map in the car for the later summits.
1.832 CW – 6 QSO’s:
It was embarrassingly early but I need not have worried about any lack of keenness among Top Band enthusiasts as once again these fears proved to be unjustified. Working on 160 is something of a Catch 22 where early is likely to result in greater success but with fewer available chasers. This was not the case today with six callsigns in the makeshift log before 07:30.
Stations worked between 07:07 & 07:25 on 160 were: G4OBK; G4SSH; EI2CL; G0NUP; G3TJE and G3RDQ. I heard an OM7 calling but could not get back to him. In terms of Top Band this constituted a flying start, despite signal strengths being lower than anticipated. Unfortunately G0VOF had a very full day at work and was unable to attend. I imagine he might have been close to tears; such is Mark’s enthusiasm for 160. Powers were 100 W for all QSO’s.
3.557 CW – 6 QSO’s:
Was it a bit early after all? Of the stations who contacted me on here only one - G4WSX was not in the 160m log. 40 W was used with full power CQ’s at the end and signals were moderate for the band. It was still only 07:46.
3.725 SSB – 12 QSO’s:
I expected early morning nets on here but was pleasantly surprised when the frequency was clear. It made for success and half the chasers; all recognizable as such, were worked on here in 20 minutes. Power was 40 or 100 Watts and reports ranged from 57 to 59.
70.450 FM – Nil QSO’s.
After a brief and fruitless call on 4m FM, I was QRT by 08:10. Unfortunately I later found out that Bob G6ODU had spotted me but I hadn’t given it sufficient time. At least one 4m chaser; G4BLH was disappointed. Mike was the last person I wanted to upset after all his help getting me up and running in the HuMPs program! We were to speak later. QSO total for this hill was 24.
I got back to Buttertubs Pass at 09:02 but some time was wasted making log sheets from the old map and changing the 8.8 Ah battery for an 13.2 Ah one. This would do the next two summits with power to spare. The required 13 mile drive via Hawes (the Hardraw road was closed) took half an hour.
By 09:49 I was walking from the Coal Road (SD 7796 8805) for NP15, Gt. Knoutberry. After ten years of taking a bee-line to the summit mostly over rough tussock grass, I went via the accepted route for the first time; namely along the track, turning left at the gate at (SD 7768 8744 - a waypoint given to me by Nick G4OOE) to walk up beside the fence. It may be 600m further but it is actually easier despite initially being at the wrong side of the fence. The path is on the right of it and navigationally you can’t go wrong. Over to the south there are some rock stacks; today visible only on the way down.
The first thing I spotted on arrival was an abandoned or forgotten radio mast lying on the grass beside the wall. It consisted of about five 1m black tubular GRP sections very much like a SOTAmast but this had an orange and silver finish around the base of the outer section. After reassembling it, I wedged it between the wall and a fence post. Maybe someone will come back for it.
G/NP-015: GREAT KNOUTBERRY HILL, 672m, 4 pts, 10:23 to 12:10, 8 Deg.C. 15 mph wind. Damp low-cloud. IO84KP, WAB SD78. (Orange phone signal.)
I phoned Roy with an update. The resulting spot helped a lot and saved valuable time.
1.832 CW – 2 QSO’s:
At 10:50 this band was now ‘closed.’ Phil G4OBK still had a massive signal but I was now down a couple of ‘S’ points with him. How Roy G4SSH ‘crept’ into the log, I’ll never know but he QSL’d his RST OK before giving me 119. Power was 100 Watts.
3.557 CW – 12 QSO’s:
The band was still working reasonably well inter-G. EI2CL who had missed out on 160m, got in here. Mike wasn’t the only Irish station - GI4SRQ and GI4ONL also called. Apart from one GM the rest were G chasers. Power was mostly set to 40 W. Reports were moderate with severe QSB which seemed to haunt us for most of the day. 100 W CQ’s at the end did not add to the tally.
3.724 SSB – 10 QSO’s:
10 regulars were worked on 80 SSB but again QSB was a problem at times. Carolyn G6WRW reported my signal dropping to 53 from 59 and others said that at times it became inaudible. The rig was set to 40W with the ‘wick’ turned up for any difficult QSO’s. With the exception of GW7AAV (59 plus 10 both ways) all stations worked were in England. ON7KJW tried for a QSO but failed to hear his RS.
70.425 FM – 4 QSO’s:
A call on 70.450 FM with 3 Watts brought back G4OBK Phil in Pickering; G4BLH Mike nr Nelson; M3RDZ Roy in Burnley (with his unique operating style) and G6MZX Geoff in Craven. Phil was 59 with my aerial held out horizontally but no copy with it vertical. I think Geoff was on a handheld; he was 52 to me with the others 59. This session went right up to noon and the QSO total for this hill was 28.
The walk down was much improved after dropping out of cloud. I could see the interesting rock stacks but the camera memory gave up at that point. I had forgotten to insert an SD card and couldn’t be bothered to rummage in the rucksack until later. I arrived back at the Coal Road at 12:33; ahead of the time I’d hoped for. I have lost count of how many times I have staggered directly down that pathless tussocky hillside in the dark, peering through the fog for the car. Never again; you’re never too old to learn. Though a bit boggy in places, this ‘new’ route, first described for SOTA by either G3CWI or G4RQJ, is a huge improvement.
Change of venue:
I’d planned for the easy Dodd Fell (NP16) next but after suffering windblown damp fog for over 6 hours now and with morale sagging somewhat, a wall to sit behind remained an attractive proposition. After considering NP7 Wild Boar Fell with its tiny shelter because it was nearby, I chose Birks Fell (NP31) with an attack from the Litton side. I expected the satnav to take me back through Hawes. Instead it took me via Dent head, the B-roads 6277 and 6479, to Horton and Stainforth. When I realised I would have to pass Pen-y-Ghent and Fountains Fell, Birks Fell was forgotten.
At the end of the 22 mile drive, I payed my £1 to the honesty Box near Dale Head Farm (SD 8426 7145) then set off up the farm track for Pen-Y-Ghent at 13:22. This one still had cloud on it but the WX was now as good as it would get all day.
PEN-Y-GHENT, G/NP-010, 694m, 4pts, 14:04 to 15:31, 8 Deg.C, 15 mph wind. Low-cloud. This was the only summit of the day where I saw people. LOC: IO84VD, WAB: SD87 (Orange phone signal.)
3.557 CW - 12 QSO’s:
I’d originally thought that I would be forced to use 40m for inter-G comms at some point in the day but once again 80m delivered the goods. Even more surprising and something that pleased me greatly were the three overseas stations that came in; namely DL3HXX; DL1FU (Frid was 559 - he gave me 229) and LA8BCA. All were logged. In addition, our EI friend EI2CL made it through OK. The rest were G chasers with one GI.
At the end Helen M0YHB, encouraged by Carolyn G6WRW, tried her hand at CW again. At the time I thought our QSO, though slowish and basic, was successful but Helen told me later on SSB that she wasn’t confident about that. Nonetheless, it will remain in my log and well done to her for learning CW. Power was 100 Watts throughout but incoming reports (mostly 229 to 559) were noticeably down on the first two summits.
3.724 SSB - 10 QSO’s:
Surprisingly reports (57 to 59) were better than for CW. Whether we tend to be more complimentary on voice, I don’t know. Again power was 100W (or as close to it as a 12 Volt battery can deliver - probably more like 70W). All chasers were G based. This session took 37 minutes. With a fourth summit now in mind, I was supposed to be going a bit quicker but walkers kept coming up to ask me questions and I didn’t want to seem unfriendly.
1.832 CW - 2 QSO’s:
This time Phil G4OBK needed his Beverage just to hear me. On it I was 569 to him but as an audio clip emailed from Phil later demonstrated, his usual antenna was feeding nothing but noise to the receiver. The band must have been close to it’s nadir for the day. Nevertheless, Roy G4SSH somehow ‘grubbed’ his way into the 160m log from Scarborough for the third time; QSL’ing both ways.
4m FM - 2 QSO’s:
Mike G4BLH was not available for this one but Roy M3RDZ and Geoff G6MZX were. Geoff was on his handie again and we exchanged at 51 both ways. At my end; 3W from an IC-E90 to an extended helical & counterpoise for all 4m contacts.
I was too busy texting and fiddling with the radio to walk fast on the way down but it’s not far and I arrived at the car for 16:02.
After food, drink, a one mile drive and a battery change, I was walking again for NP17 from Blishmire cattle grid (SD 8531 7233) by 16:17. The straight up approach is painful but quick and thus far, this was the first cloud-free top of the day.
FOUNTAINS FELL, G/NP-017, 668m, 4pts, 16:50 to 18:40, 7 Deg.C and falling, 15 mph wind. Overcast. Cloud free until just prior to descent. LOC: IO84VD, WAB: SD87. (Orange phone signal.)
Phoned Roy G4SSH for a spot. He was having a busy day, not least with SOTA but he was also preparing to go out. Amongst all this, he managed somehow to put the SOTA news on the reflector. It had been a long day for me too so a Top Band only activation was the intention. There was a certain amount of guilt here but the decision was made easier by the fact that it would be dark before the end and hopefully give national or better coverage. For that reason I was also going to offer it on SSB.
The down side is that not everybody has an antenna for 80 let alone 160 but they can always resonate the TV coax against the central heating? That’s not really being flippant. As Sportacus says in Lazy Town, ‘There’s always a way.’ Last but not least, although I was resigned to descending in the dark, I had to get myself home to Scarborough at some point!
1.832 CW - 12 QSO’s:
It had crossed my mind that after 4pm the band would start to ‘open’ but such presumptuousness turned out to be premature. I called Roy first but he was weaker than he had been all day and the QSB seemed worse too. This was more than a disappointment; in fact it was something of a shock, making me doubt my decision to do 160 only. Nick G4OOE who lives a couple of miles from Roy in Scarborough was appreciably stronger with his bigger aerial but the reports coming back (229) were the same for both. Not a good start.
Next in was G4OBK and as always the ‘chaser’s datum station’ was threatening my front end! His report for me at 569 was the same as from the last two summits but as the day closed there came a gradually improvement until overseas stations could be worked.
Here is a full list of stations worked in CW between 17:07 and 17:55:
G4SSH; G4OOE; G4OBK; PA0SKP; G3RDQ; GODDX; G0UBJ; HB9CGA; HB9BIN; M0TUB; GI4SRQ and EI2CL. OK7DX failed to receive his report and I think the same went for G4WSX unless I have forgotten to write it in the log? There was never anything remotely resembling a pile-up but working steadily through a dozen chasers between CQ’s was quite satisfying. I suspect Mike EI2CL left it until signals peaked above his noise before attempting to work me. He was last in and I was starting to think that he might miss out.
Working the two HB9’s and the PA was good when you consider it wasn’t properly dark. In fact HB9BIN (a true 599) was easily the strongest in this session. I had been willing him to call in to one of my activations so I could send the German double-dotted U (di-di-dah-dah) in his name Juerg (Jurg). I thought this would be easy but it’s so unfamiliar that it took me three attempts under ever increasing pressure. Juerg is more of an activator than a chaser and one of Scarborough’s favourites who is regularly worked by G4SSH, G0NUP & G4OOE, so I frequently hear him mentioned on 2m FM locally.
Power was 100 watts for all QSO’s and reports ranged from 224!? to 599 but typically strength 4 to 6. M0TUB gave me a report of 559 at 17:34 but by 17:55 in darkness, it had risen to 599.
1.836.5 SSB - 11 QSO’s:
Left until last, the SSB’ers would have the advantage for a change. It was a mistake not to check the intended SSB freq before leaving CW on 1.832. On flicking up to 1.843, I found to my chagrin that it was in use by a strong French station. Phil G4OBK was there to help and between us we decided on the next available space above 1.843 MHz. 1.840 was clear too but I don’t think the bandplan permits SSB on there. The use of 1.836.5 barely avoided a retune of the loading coil slugs. 95% of my sorties onto 160m are in daylight where competition for frequencies does not exist and ‘QRL?’ is a mere formality. I was not going to get through all the available Amp-hours, so full power was retained for the complete activation.
The list of stations worked in SSB: G4OBK; G6MZX; G0RQL; GW4EVX; G4WSB; G6WRW; G4OOE; G8ADD; G3UYN; G3TJE and MW0GYV. All of this was easy for me with very low noise but it must have been considerably harder if not impossible from some QTH’s. Whether that situation would have been any better on 80m at that time is debatable. I cling to the belief that for maximum effect on 160 (chaser wise) this is the best time to work it. There were one or two non-SOTA ops who called in to test their antennas etc.
Just as an excercise, averaging all 11 QSA’s gives a strength of ‘S6.6.’ This value applies to both incoming and outgoing reports for this session.
4m FM - Nil:
Arguably NP17 has the least good 4m takeoff of the hills worked today.
SKED on 80:
Time to pack up or was it? It was now dark but with half the aerial ‘walked around’ ready for rolling up, I remembered Hazel M6YLH. I had not heard a squeak from her on any of the summits. In fact the 5 Watts of SSB she had available (my 817 into a windom) would have had almost no chance of forcing a way through in daylight on 80m and she could not get onto 160m. Some 100 Watt stations had struggled earlier in the QSB from noisy environments but now there was a chance. One quick phone call and we had a sked set up on 3.724 SSB. Hazel scurried off to set up the radio, get patch leads and a battery etc while I re-erected the dipole.
One call and there she was, plain as day. I was amazed that 5 watts could produce such a clear signal (about 55) on the 80m band at that time. At my end it was armchair copy but it wasn’t quite so easy for her even though I was transmitting QRO. That must be down to noise and since I do not chase from home apart from the odd 2m-FM local HuMP, I don’t have to live with it. I have said it before and here it is again; a chaser’s life is not a straightforward one. Yes activators must strain themselves physically at times but they have the best of radio conditions. Not so the MF-HF chaser. Skill and patience are needed in abundance.
With M6YLH in the log it was time to make tracks. I kept my coat on for the descent as an icy blast always seems to hit you as you go over the steep lip. The first part is the worst. The ground drops 50m vertically in 90m horizontally. It was dark, windy and the clag was back again. With only a headlight on rough wet grass with terracing and a QRO rucksack care is needed. That said, it’s preferable to climbing down the craggy south end of Pen-y-Ghent in darkness; that being the alternative choice of final summit. Despite new boots there was one minor slip but the car was safely and thankfully regained at precisely 19:00.
Driving via Grassington, the A1, A168 & A170, I was home for 21:30 but there was little traffic. Total distance driven today was a ‘mere’ 226 miles but all in all, it had been quite a tiring though rewarding day.
Total: 102 QSO’s, comprising:
22 on 1.8-CW
11 on 1.8-SSB
30 on 3.5-CW.
33 on 3.5-SSB.
6 on 70.450 / 70.425-FM
QSO Breakdown: 24 on NP6; 28 on NP15; 26 on NP10; 24 on NP17.
NP6: 8.8 Ah Li-Po 31% discharged.
NP15 & NP1: 13.2 Ah Li-Po 57% discharged).
NP17: 8.6 Ah Li-Po 67% discharged.
Total power used: 16.1 Ah. (53% of the total).
‘Round Trip’ Ascent & Distance:
NP6: 195m (640ft) ascent, 7.1 km. (Reduced distance due to closer parking.) 54U, 39D.
NP15: 176m (577ft) ascent, 3.9 km. (Increased ascent & distance via track & gate) 34U, 23D.
NP10: 270m (886ft) ascent, 5.5 km (3.4 miles). 42U, 31D.
NP17: 241m (791ft) ascent, 2.9 km (1.8 miles). 33U, 20D.
Total ascent & distance: 882m (2894ft) ascent 19.4 km (12 miles) walked.
Walking time: 4 h-36 min.
Summit time: NP6: 1h-36m. NP15: 1h-47m. NP10: 1h-35m. NP17: 1h-50m. Tot: 6hr-48m.
Distance driven: 226 miles. (87+13+22+1+103).
Activator points: 30. (or 120 on the premise that this was done on leap day; 29th Feb?!)
Drive 87 miles: 03:21
Arr. Buttertubs: 05:38
Walk for NP6: 05:53
NP6: 06:47 to 08:23
Rtn. Buttertubs: 09:02
Drive 13 miles to Coal Rd: 09:15 to 09:45
Walk for NP15: 09:49
NP15: 10:23 to 12:10
Rtn. Coal Rd: 12:33
Drive 22 miles: 12:43 to 13:18
Walk for NP10: 13:22
NP10: 14:04 to 15:31
Rtn. honesty box: 16:02
Drive 1 mile: 16:10 to 16:13
Walk for NP17: 16:17
NP17: 16:50 to 18:40
Rtn. Blishmire: 19:00
Drive home 103 miles: 19:08 to 21:30.
It had been an uninspiring day weather-wise with moderate winds but no precipitation apart from the light drizzle you get from saturated low-cloud. Though temps were around 6 to 8c there was no sunshine. Apart from on Pen-y-Ghent, I saw no other walkers.
Walking 12 miles but climbing only 2900 feet is a reasonably efficient way of gathering 30 SOTA points without driving too far. Since these NP’s can (mostly) be done singly, it’s comforting to know that the car with its all important resupply is never far away. Without this I would not have been able to log later in the day. You don’t need to carry huge amounts of water, food or battery rescources. This makes it significantly easier than the big rounds in say the LD region or Wales. Certainly some degree of fitness is needed for this type of undertaking but the rescource in shortest supply is time and that is governed in no small measure by what you do at each summit.
As for QSO’s, 102 in the day spread across 4 summits is shamefully low until you consider the bands used. Given limitless time, you could almost double the tally by adding 40m (or 2FM) to 80 and 160 but 7.032 is sometimes too busy to be a pleasant experience for any but the most expert CW activator; something that I will never be. This is not a thing I have noticed personally but apparently discipline is becoming a problem there at times to say nothing of added activity from other similar activator/ chaser activities such as F&F, castles etc all entering the mix. All are welcome of course and only the minority misbehave.
4m is a nice afterthought which has never been busy. I would have expected a steep rise in occupancy since the arrival of Chinese rigs but my impression is that activity may have reduced slightly. It’s true that some of the more easterly NP’s are not well placed for 4m contacts and I don’t use my good antenna partly due to weight but mainly because of the time needed to deploy it. The QSO total could have been boosted on the first one if I’d given chasers time to respond to Bob’s spot. Apologies for that.
Top band was really good. I was more than happy to have made six QSO’s on NP6 and 23 from NP17 making it worthwhile getting up early and staying late. Not much can be expected of 160m around midday so it’s fortunate that Phil & Roy were around to make it to work at those times. A total of 33 QSO’s was very pleasing with SSB a success after sunset. With a repaired rig and fully checked aerial there should have been no reason to worry. There was one scare - high SWR on 160m before the first QSO of the day. ‘Oh no not again!’ It was only one of the coils that had come loose. Relief.
The ones that couldn’t hear me will disagree but I think that the 80m band, though difficult because of QSB and absorption at times, did a pretty good job of getting the signal around the UK all day and even out to Germany a few times. If Frid DL1FU with a modest setup can make a daytime QSO with me on 80 CW, I would urge more European stations to give it a try. If only 10% of the chasers which regularly appear on 40 made it through on 80, to my mind that would be real success. Either they have no space for the required antenna, a preconceived idea that it’s pointless to try 80 or it’s again down to noise levels.
Why no 2mFM?
I’m afraid I am still neglecting 2m as there’s too much to get through on HF. The thought of simple gear, easy listening and shorter summit stays is still attractive and has much to recommend it. In terms of SOTA, it’s where I came in. Some may say it’s a bit boring etc but all things considered it remains the best arrow that a SOTA activator has in his quiver. There will be days in the future where QRP 2m-FM is used exclusively in GX0OOO activations.
The new boots seemed a bit small in the morning but by the afternoon were more comfortable albeit a lot dirtier. This is my third pair of Scarpa Ranger GTX boots since 2005. From 2002 to 2005, I wore out two pairs of cheaper boots. The Rangers are not a high tech boot, are quite flexible and not really designed for winter. However the winter boots that I have would significantly reduce performance so they’re only used when it’s essential.
After repair at ML&S, the IC706-2G is working well again. A tiny piece of self adhesive aluminium foil, which I used as a screen inside the lightweight composite panels, painstakingly homebrewed in 2006, fell into the works. A short circuit took out two components in the LPF area. This caused a high VSWR on 160 & 80, evident on the rig’s meter even into a dummy load. That in turn reduced the transmitter power to miniscule levels. After thorough testing of the dipole the finger was pointed at the rig and off it went. Apart from broadbanding, my days of fiddling with SMT radio bits are over. It cost £80 inc VAT & P&P both ways and was away for less than a week.
Thanks to ALL STATIONS WORKED and to the spotters: G4SSH; G4OBK; EI2CL; G6ODU and G6MZX. Thanks to Roy G4SSH for telephone liaison and Phil G4OBK for their help throughout a 12-hour day. Finally, many thanks to the Top Band (& 80m) chasers on ‘dawn parade.’
73, John G4YSS.
(Using GX0OOO/P; Scarborough Special Events Group Club Call)