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GM/WS-002 AONACH BEAG, on 16-09-15


#1

AONACH BEAG, GM/WS-002 on 16th September 2015

GM/WS-002 on 40m & 30m QRO & 2m-QRP.
G4YSS Unaccompanied.
SSEG Club-call GS0OOO/P & GM4YSS/P (the latter used for database).
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS)

RADIO EQUIPMENT:
HF-QRO:
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver without internal batteries.
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier.
Link dipole for 80-40-(30)-20-10m Bands (CT3 Dipole)
Four section x 5m home-brew CFC mast with 1m end sticks
Unitone 'D’ shape ear-cup headphones.

VHF QRP:
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF-5W Transceiver.
Reserve Rig: IC-E90 4-Band, 5W-VHFM H/H (not used).
J-Pole for 2m-FM.

Batteries:
One 6Ah Li-Po (Part discharged)
One 2.2 Ah Li-Po (Not Used)

GPS:
Garmin GEKO-301

Pack weight:
11.6 kg (25.6 pounds) inc. 1.5 litre fluids

Introduction:
This was the final summit in the series of five during our 11 day stay in Fort William. Not too difficult but still ending on a high note of 10 points, I chose WS2 for the third time. In 2008 and 2010 I used the Nevis Range Cablecar to access half way up Aonach Mor and more easily activate the 4,055ft Aonach Beag about 5km to the south. The first cable car is at 10 am which indicated a leisurely hotel breakfast at a civilised time.

Also while we’re on the subject of cableways, I might well have tried WS17 and/ or WS19 instead of WS2 but when I called in at the Glencoe chairlift, I was told that it closed on 30th August for conversion from Diesel to electric. A disappointment.

Nevis Range Gondolas:
http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/gondola_times_and_prices.asp (Tel:+44 (0)1397 705 825.) The adult charge is £12 per-person (return) and the operating times at this time of year are daily 10am to 5pm (wind-speed limited). The journey time is 12 minutes and the station heights are; lower 100m at NN172775 and upper 655m (2,150 feet) at NN1876 7561. The saving in ascent is 555m and the distance covered by mechanical means is about 2.5km. There is a good mountain bike track that winds around beneath the cables if you miss the last ride down at 17:15. Being an old age pensioner, the cost to me was £10.75 return.

The Ascent / Descent Route:
Arriving at 09:40, I bought my ticket and joined a short queue of friendly American Tourists who asked me about the poles I was carrying on my rucksack. We had a nice conversation and they showed a good deal of interest in what I told them about SOTA. They were already quite knowledgeable regarding amateur radio at a basic level at least.

Four or five of us piled into one of the cars at 10:10 which is when my antenna poles became mildly antisocial. Luckily I was last in and first out. Next to me was a chap from Skipton who seemed to be in a state of agitation and was actively looking upwards rather than down. Someone pointed out the emergency exit should there be a problem. Understandably that made him worse so I tried to distract him for the next twelve minutes by talking about the G/NP series of summits near his home in the Yorkshire Dales.

Once out of the gondola at the top station (NN1876 7561) this is the route to follow:
I was underway by 10:24 today, walking west along the bulldozed track for a very short distance to NN 1871 7550. You bear left off the track here on a path which goes on the slant via a bridge over a burn up to the snack bar at NN 1859 7493 (closed today). From there you can walk SSW diagonally uphill over pathless grass between the snack bar and the chair-lift cables before crossing under them to pick up the path again at NN 1837 7457. This short cut may not be possible in winter due to hurtling skiers?

After continuing south for about 100m to NN1849 7441, there’s a decent path which is easy to follow via NN1865 7425, NN1876 7408 and NN1907 7393 to a communications mast and wooden hut at NN1922 7395. The path gets a bit vague around here but appears again at NN1926 7350. Next is Aonach Mor’s substantial summit cairn (1221m) at NN 19306 72952, where there is normally a view of the target. Not so this morning; it was too misty.

There is a good path over grass, from Aonach Mor via NN1931 7235, to the low-point of approx 1,090m at NN1939 7190. After that the character changes as the path makes a ‘summit bid’ over and around outcrop and loose stones (NN1946 7170 and NN1962 7164) to the small summit cairn GPS’d on a previous sortie at NN 19718 71494.

The top of Aonach Beag is featureless with scant windswept vegetation and in one place an attractive ice-shattered quartz outcrop. It wasn’t windy today but if it had been, there is little to hide behind. The east side is precipitous but there is good grass just a little way SW off the top with loads of space to set up a dipole with Ben Nevis, its Arete and Carn Mor Dearg combining to make a splendid view.

It is again worth mentioning that ‘Mor’ means big and ‘Beag’ means small. In this case Aonach Beag is the SOTA being 13m higher than Aonoch Mor. This is unfortunate as it’s less accessible. Also if the intervening low point was 15m deeper, we’d have two 10-pointers here.

AONACH BEAG, GM/WS-002, 1,236m (4,055ft), 10 pts, 12:12 to 15:03 BST. 10 deg C. Less than 1 mph wind with midges. Low-cloud at first, a little sunshine later. Misty views of Ben Nevis’ north face at only 3km range. Only two other persons seen. WAB-NN17, LOC-IO76MT. Nil Orange (EE) phone coverage at both tops (Mor & Beag).

7.033.4 CW - 12 QSO’s:
I first had to slide up 400Hz to clear other SOTA’s. Without mobile phone to fall back on, it was a case of calling and hoping conditions would allow someone to hear me. I knew it would be just a matter of time before I got an answer but it took less than a minute before getting a call back from Roy G4SSH. There followed an encouraging signal report exchange of 589/ 569 which meant others would quickly follow.

With 50 Watts, 11 more ops were logged in 15 minutes: G4FGJ; G4CMQ; G3RMD; PA0SKP; DK7ZH; DL1FU; DL6WT; HB9CGA; PA0INA; G4WSB and HB9AGH. Only G4WSB and G4CMQ were 599 to me; the others mostly 559 to 589. Skip was favouring the UK again and that’s where the better reports (579 to 599) came from. Apart from Sake (PA0SKP) who gave me 579, I was getting between 229 and 449 from stations outside the British Isles.

7.160 SSB - 23 QSO’s:
I probably shouldn’t do SOTA on here. I should know by now that there was a possibility of blocking out WAB mobiles during the half hour I was on. However with the dearth of mobiles running around WAB squares of late due to months of poor band conditions on 40m, I thought it wouldn’t matter too much plus it would give any bored monitoring stations something to do for a while.

Starting with Ken G0FEX (59/ 58) and 50 Watts, I logged the following callsigns: G6TUH; G0RQL; DL7UCW; EA2CKX; G4WSB; M3FEH; G4CQR; MW3PZO; G0VWP; G4OBK; EI9GLB; G4JZF; M0IML; M0WBG; G7VJA; G8ADD; PA7ZEE; F/G6LKB; 2E0TTB/P; G1BLJ; M0NTC and G4GEW. The second half of the session was somewhat marred by some serious splashing from LF of the QRG which understandably caused minor confusion among the chasers. Not withstanding this, as far as I could tell, all stations wanting to get through went safely into the log.

2E0TTB/P was on the Long Mynd but it was unclear whether this was SOTA or not. I think not. Dave G6LKB was enjoying a holiday in France and Ben DL7UCW got the summit from Germany along with grid square NN17. Numerous attempts to get a report back to Simon G4JJS failed completely and I think it was around the time that the closely adjacent station appeared. As on recent days, Spain was worked; EA2CKX giving me 52.

10.118 CW - 6 QSO’s:
10.118 was as quiet as it had been all week when I needed it. The reason may have been that it has been performing so badly that people were just avoiding it. Sten SM6DER was first in the log, asking for the SOTA ref which I forgot to give initially. Once the information was supplied, he kindly posted a spot for me.

G8GLE/ QRP (name Did) was next in with a lengthy QSO followed by SM7GUY. It’s always a pleasure to meet Mirko S52CU on the air whether from a summit or from his home QTH. Working other activators invokes a feeling of camaraderie and shared experience. I heard a G4 at this point but though I replied several times, nothing further was heard from this caller.

Shortly after working Mirko my CW key developed a serious fault. Consisting merely of a tiny centre-off toggle switch, it usually serves me pretty well despite producing (in partnership with me of course) plenty of sending errors. Today it became almost unusable over the next two QSO’s with PA0INA and OE6WIG. The problem was the centre biassing. After sending dots or dashes it stayed sending them even though it was released. In other words it stuck in one of the side positions and would not return to off. A profusion of dots and dashes was the result.

This became a greater and greater embarrassment as I struggled to finish these final two QSO’s. Frans and Franz could be forgiven for wondering if they were working the village idiot sending with his left foot! Whether it was the sending or just the conditions I don’t know but I failed to work one further station ON3FU who called in. , Sweating with the strain and frustration, I’d had more than enough of defective equipment and just had to give in. As far as 30m was concerned it was QRT.

After packing up the HF gear, I relocated 60 metres to the summit cairn to maximize lines-of-sight for VHF. Troubled in a minor way throughout the activation by midges, it was immediately obvious that for reasons unknown, these annoying insects were much more prolific at the cairn.

145.400/ 145.525 FM - 4 QSO’s:
Each time I swing round the 2m-FM band in northern Scotland, I expect to hear very little or nothing. This time there was a strong signal on 145.400. This was MM3ZCB/P Caroline on GM/ES-037 and we worked S2S with 59/ 55 reports. Caroline called MM1MAJ/P across for a QSO. At the time Martyn was employed working chasers on the 20 metres band and he rushed back immediately after the exchange. I know how he feels. Chasers get nervous when you simply disappear, be it for a call of nature, to talk to a passing visitor or in this instance, a quick QSO on another band.

In 2008 I had worked GM7PKT from here. Robin was activating GM/SS-009 at the time; another 10 pointer but one that looks much harder than WS2, on the map at least. It’s always a pleasure to work Robin and today I caught him at work. He gave his location as ‘a couple of miles outside Fort William’ and it was 59 both ways.

By now the midges were becoming much more than a mere annoyance as a large swarm of them attacked me from all sides. I had been wearing a head net for the past hour but I’d been somewhat foolish while packing away the HF equipment. The net was now in its stuff sack and fastened to my rucksack; some use it would be there! It was also getting close to a deadline which must be strictly observed namely getting back to the cable car before 17:15.

After exchanging 73’s with Robin I felt duty bound to check for any other stations despite being eaten alive. There was just one; GM4PWR/M Alan in Fortrose which is near Inverness. This was another 59 exchange but the QSO was brief. The midges were starting to do real damage by now and I just could not concentrate on radio any longer.

The descent of WS2:
Leaving the summit and its infestation behind, the re-trace of the ascent route was started at 15:03. Pausing to retrieve one or two small quartz rock samples a little way down, it was a pleasant walk now that the low-cloud had gone but more importantly the midges too. There were substantial patches of snow down in the hollow just north of the north east ridge. Presumably these were left over from last winter. There is some altitude to be regained up to Aonach Mor, passing some grazing sheep today but after that its down hill all the way. The path grooved at first becomes indistinct as it flattens out before the big cairn is reached.

The cable car was still working when I arrived at the top station at 16:28 but there were no customers. By 16:40, I was getting out of the machine having descended 1,800 feet without effort. The man at the bottom station seemed pleased when I told him that it had been, ‘Worth every penny and more.’ I was back at the hotel for 5pm with a warm glow. This was the end of a good day and a great holiday.

QSO summary:
40m CW: 12
40m SSB: 23
30m CW: 6
2m FM: 4
Total: 45

Ascent & distance: 850m (2,789ft) – 10.6 km (6.6 mls).
Elapsed time: Walking time: UP: 1hr-48min; DN: 1hr-25min. Summit time: 2hr-51min. Gross time: 6hr-4min. (Times from and to the Gondola top station; i.e. walking & SOTA only.)

Conclusion:
This was a relatively easy 10 points to finish off with but without the use of the Gondola it would have been a much greater undertaking in terms of time and effort, with over 1,400m of ascent required of the activator.

There were no more activating days left and we would be driving back to Scarborough the day after. It had been a very enjoyable stay in Fort William, particularly the Highland Hotel, especially the staff, along with various cafes scattered around the area which had provided tea and scones on the non-activating days. We had celebrated our Ruby Wedding Anniversary (no activation that day!) and enjoyed excellent weather 90% of the time. Five activations in 11 days could be classed as leisurely but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This was still summer; a time for taking it easy.

I now have to repair the dipole which failed on Ben Nevis (it needs a new coax) and the CW toggle switch will have to be lubricated or replaced before there can be any further activations.

Thanks: To ALL STATIONS WORKED and to G4SSH and SM6DER for spots. Thanks to Nevis Range for saving so much time and effort and my XYL for the use of her car.

Thanks for your Replies:
A big thank you to everyone who has read the previous reports and for your interesting and also informative comments. I felt slightly less embarrassed when I found out that Brian G8ADD got lost in the same place as me.

In answer to the question from Steve G1YBB (WS293 report). The mast is home brew circa 1988 and intended for portable work. The paint is red and white cellulose on carbon so if left unpainted it would be black. The markings, along with reflective patches are intended to increase conspicuity partly so that people don’t walk into it but mostly because a lot of my activations have been at night with just a head torch. It’s easy to get disorientated at night. This makes it easier to find the end sticks and relocate the mast quickly.

73, John G(M)4YSS,
using SSEG GS0OOO/P.
(This summit will be entered under GM4YSS/P for SOTA purposes)

Summary for holiday:
The following activations were carried out:
GM/WS-001-10 Ben Nevis, 08-09-15
GM/WS-044-8 Buachaille Etive Mor, 10-09-15
GM/WS-293-2 Bidhein Bad na h-lolaire, 11-09-15
GM/WS-007-10 Bidean nam Bian, 14-09-15
GM/WS-002-10 Aonach Beag, 16-09-15
See separate Reports.

Totals:
4,459m (14,630ft) Ascent - 48km (30 miles) walked.
Walking time: 17hrs-1min at 1.76mph Ave (Summer speed!)
40 SOTA points.

Hotel:
Lochs & Glens self drive special deal. Eleven days at the Highland Hotel in Fort William at 28 GBP pppn.

Photos: 8a-18a-20a-40a-53a-63a-67a-75a-80a-106a.

Above: Slopes of Aonach Mor, looking down towards the gondola top station.

Above: Slopes of Aonach Mor, looking down towards Corpach (Fort William.)

Above: Upper slopes of Aonach Mor. Top hut.

Above: Quartz outcrop on WS2 Aonach Beag. Summit cairn behind.

Above: WS2 Aonach Beag; HF Activation. Behind: Ben Nevis north face (left) Carn Mor Dearg (right). CMD Arete in between the two.

Above: WS2 Aonach Beag. Summit cairn/ VHF activation point…

Above: Leaving Aonach Beag. Lowest point between Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor.

Above: Looking back at top of Aonach Beag from low point.

Above: Looking back at top of Aonach Beag from Aonach Mor’s summit cairn.

Above: A welcome ride down the lower half of Aonach Mor.


#2

Thanks for the excellent report John. This is one we have contemplated doing previously, though I was worried that the traverse between Beag and Mor might have been too exposed for my liking, but your photos make it look just about acceptable to me! I’m guessing that my normal 2m FM rucksack antenna might have to be ditched for the gondola.

The 2m FM S2S was fortuitous: I had put out my “final call” a few minutes earlier and a mobile had come back to me, but unfortunately I’d lost him before we could exchange reports, so I was continuing to call in the hope that he’d come back into range, and then you popped up. I’d probably have stopped calling had I completed the QSO with him.

Caroline.